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Victoria University of Wellington

1. Siu, Wai Yan Rebecca. Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language.

Degree: 2016, Victoria University of Wellington

Internal lexical variation appears to be a prominent feature within signed languages; it is perhaps a result of their distinctive acquisition patterns and fragile transmission. Recent research in different signed languages indicates that sociolinguistic variation within signed languages parallels some patterns found in spoken languages, though with some factors distinct to the former. This research examines sociolinguistic variation in a regional sign language, Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL), “spoken” by deaf people in Hong Kong. The focus of this dissertation is lexical variation and two phonological variations in the signs DEAF/HEARING, and ‘location drop’ in articulation of signs made at the forehead. This research project is a modified replication of the earlier studies in American Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, and New Zealand Sign Language (Lucas, Bayley, & Valli, 2001; Schembri, McKee, McKee, Pivac, Johnston, & Goswell, 2009; McKee & McKee, 2011). The data of 65 participants recruited from the researcher’s networks in the HKSL community using the friend-of-a-friend method was analyzed. Three types of data were collected: free conversation, picture naming and interview. A set of 120 pictures (with/without Chinese characters) was used to elicit signs for the concepts represented. Fifty-one out of these 120 concepts were analyzed from the semantic domains of colour, kinship, number, and country/region. Results show that school attended and age of signer play a prominent role in lexical variation. A gender effect is also found in several concepts. In addition to individual lexical items, the use of compound signs, ‘citation forms’ and handedness in number signs were also examined. Various social factors including school, age, gender, education, and work environment, interact with each other to constrain the variant choices. While numbers over ten can be produced either one-handed or two-handed, signs for hundred and tens highly favour the latter. Regarding phonological variation, conversation videos of 40 participants were annotated for the DEAF/HEARING and location drop variables. For the DEAF/HEARING variables, preliminary investigation of the movement pattern demonstrates that there may be two different types of change going on: linguistically driven (originated from compounds) and socially driven (motivated by redefining deaf identity). It also suggests that DEAF is in a further stage of development than HEARING. For the location variable, twenty tokens from each participant were coded, producing 800 tokens for multivariate analysis. Again, complex correlations between social factors are found to constrain the lowering of signs. The findings further indicate that this change has originated in the deaf school name signs due to their salience, and signers from these schools have led the change. In addition, the results in both phonological variables show that grammatical constraints play an essential role in conditioning variant choices, which parallels results of the previous studies. In sum, the… Advisors/Committee Members: McKee, David, Meyerhoff, Miriam.

Subjects/Keywords: Hong Kong Sign Language; Sociolinguistic variation; Sign language

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APA (6th Edition):

Siu, W. Y. R. (2016). Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language. (Doctoral Dissertation). Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Siu, Wai Yan Rebecca. “Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language.” 2016. Doctoral Dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington. Accessed May 26, 2018.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Siu, Wai Yan Rebecca. “Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language.” 2016. Web. 26 May 2018.


Siu WYR. Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. Victoria University of Wellington; 2016. [cited 2018 May 26]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

Siu WYR. Sociolinguistic Variation in Hong Kong Sign Language. [Doctoral Dissertation]. Victoria University of Wellington; 2016. Available from: