DUBUISSON, C., L. LELIÈVRE, A.-M. PARISOT et A. VERCAINGNE-MÉNARD : Acquisition of handshape in Quebec Sign Language (LSQ), Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research, Amsterdam, juillet 2000.

There are relatively few published studies on the acquisition of handshape in signed languages (Siedlecki and Bonvillian, 1993; Takkinen, 1994; Boyes-Braem, 1990). Following a preliminary study (Dubuisson, et al., 1998) this paper is based on the signed productions of three children, videotaped at three years of age (1244 signs) and four years of age (2141 signs). In oral languages, studies on language acquisition reveal universal tendencies in phonological development (Ingram, 1986, 1989; Locke, 1983, Menn and Stoel-Gammon, 1995). Studying the substitutions made by children makes it possible to examine the articulatory difficulty of phonemes and the marked or unmarked character of certain oppositions. With respect to handshape in signed languages, three feature classes can be distinguished which correspond to features that can be independently manipulated: selected fingers, thumb position, and flexion of the selected fingers. On the basis of these classes, we elaborated a scale of difficulty, taking into account the frequency of LSQ handshapes. We will show that less marked handshapes are the most often correctly produced; this result is independent of the category of sign (unimanual, bimanual, etc.). Researchers working on aphasia and on slips of the tongue frequently use a scale of distance between the phoneme produced and the target (Martin and Ridrodsy, 1974; Nespoulous et al., 1983). They have shown that produced and target phonemes share generally the same level of difficulty and differ from one another by only one or two features (Béland, 1985; Valdois, 1989). With respect to the acquisition of LSQ handshapes, our findings are similar, i.e, a) when the handshape produced differs from the target, it corresponds to the same level of difficulty or to a lower one, and b) the thumb position feature and flexion features of selected fingers are more often affected than the choice of selected fingers.