Feeling Phonology: The conventionalization of phonology in protactile communities in the United States

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A new phonological system is becoming conventional across a group of DeafBlind signers in the United States, who communicate via reciprocal, tactile channels--a practice known as "Protactile". The recent conventionalization of protactile phonology is analyzed in this paper. Research on emergent visual signed languages has demonstrated that conventionalization is not a single monolithic process, but a complex of principles involving patterns of distribution--discreteness, stability, and productivity of form--as form becomes linked with meaning in increasingly stable ways. Conventionalization of protactile phonology involves assigning specific grammatical roles to the four hands (and arms) of Signer 1 ("conveyer") and Signer 2 ("receiver") in "proprioceptive constructions" (PCs)--comparable to "classifier constructions" in visual signed languages. Analyzing PCs offers new insights into how the conventionalization of a phonological system can play out in the tactile modality.