From latent to blatant: Unmasking phonological iconicity in sign language theatre

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


One of the most important breakthroughs in contemporary phonology was the discovery that the signs of sign languages are comprised of a finite list of formational units which recombine to create large vocabularies. It showed that the property of duality of patterning does not result from the nature of the vocal-auditory channel, but rather characterizes any natural human language, including manual-visual languages. However, sign languages are also unlike spoken languages. In sign languages, unlike spoken languages, form and meaning are closely linked, and iconicity permeates all levels of sign language grammar, including phonology. This chapter reveals the subtle interplay between the meaningless and the meaningful at the phonological level in sign languages, showing that a strict bifurcation is neither warranted nor explanatory. Instead, the ubiquity of iconicity in sign languages reveals the flexibility of human language, a flexibility that is heightened in artistic expression. Authentic examples from sign language theatre show how latent phonological iconicity can be blatantly exploited, becoming a potent aesthetic and communicative tool.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSyllable, Stress, and Sign
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783110730081
ISBN (Print)9783110735024
StatePublished - 20 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved.


  • Duality of patterning
  • Iconicity
  • Sign language phonology
  • Theatrical signing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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