Johanna Mesch

Johanna Mesch


Visa sidan på svenska
Works at Department of Linguistics
Visiting address Universitetsvägen 10 C, plan 2-3
Room C 351
Postal address Institutionen för lingvistik 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Scientific head of the Sign Language Section
Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University

Johanna Mesch English presentation

Johanna Mesch, English presentation


I served as a visiting professor at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, Brazil, in August-October 2018.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2019. Ingela Holmström, Johanna Mesch, Krister Schönström.

    Det finns många olika inriktningar inom teckenspråksforskningen idag och en avsevärd mängd studier utifrån olika perspektiv och på olika språkliga nivåer. I den här forskningsrapporten görs en översikt över svensk och internationell teckenspråksforskning under 2000-talet, med särskilt fokus på allmänspråkvetenskap. Rapporten berör dock även kognitiv lingvistik, psyko- och neurolingvistik samt sociolingvistik. Dessutom fokuseras i ett varsitt avsnitt barns teckenspråk och inlärning av teckenspråk som andraspråk. Det som tas upp är ett urval av den forskning som bedrivits och rapporten gör inte anspråk på att vara heltäckande, men ger utöver de översiktliga beskrivningarna också ett stort antal referenser för fortsatt egen läsning inom de olika områden som tas upp.

  • 2019. Johanna Mesch, Eli Raanes.

    In this study, we will focus on questions and responses of deafblind people in two sign languages in tactual modality: Swedish Sign Language and Norwegian Sign Language. Everyday conversation in sign language works by the combination of manual expressions made by the hands and body in combination with non-manual (visual) expressions. The visual non-manual expressions may include eye gaze, facial expressions and mouth movement. The usage of interrogative structures (how to express questions) is a typical part of signed languages where the visual and non-manual components have specific importance as signals of a question or a wish for response. Many studies have focused on various aspects of question and response in several sign languages, giving insight on the importance of precise usage of the non-manual parts of signing (e.g. Zeshan, 2006). Tactile sign languages are used in dialogical situations where those involved in the interaction not are able to see each other. Based on earlier studies of tactile sign languages (Mesch, 1998, 2013; Mesch, Raanes, & Ferrara, 2015; Raanes, 2006, 2011), we are investigating understanding practices and mistakes concerning questions and responses. Based on our empirical data from natural interaction between adult deafblind signers, we will focus on a selection on ways of getting attention towards request for response and how to question-constructions are formed in datasets from those two sign languages. The findings from this study show that there are different type of questions (content, polar, rhetorical) and type of social actions (e.g. request for confirmation or clarification, repair, etc.), where deafblind signers have their own strategies (e.g. fingerspelling, repetition etc.) to understand each other.

  • 2019. Johanna Mesch, Krister Schönström.

    This presentation focuses on non-manual mouth actions performed by deaf signers and adult second language (L2) learners of Swedish Sign Language (SSL). The discussion of the linguistic status of mouth actions in the literature motivates our work and study. Based data from SSLC (Swedish Sign Language Corpus) (Mesch & Wallin 2015) and SSLC-L2 (L2 learner corpus in SSL) (Mesch & Schönström 2018), we compare the use of mouth actions in L1 as well as L2learners. The presentation will also describe the annotation work of non-manual mouth actions. The annotation and analysis depart from Crasborn et al.’s (2008) categories of mouth actions that have been applied to several sign languages. Distribution, frequency and spreading patterns of use of mouth actions are observed and described. The results reveal some similarities as well as differences in use of mouth actions between the groups. Furthermore, the analysis reveals qualitative differences related to the interaction and synchronization of mouth actions and hand movements among L2 learners of SSL. Challenges of annotating mouth actions will also be discussed. 

  • 2019. Diane Lillo-Martin, Christian Rathmann, Johanna Mesch.

    The international Sign Language Linguistics Society was founded by a group of sign language linguists in 2000 and aims to promote sign language research on an international scale and the maintenance of high scientific and ethical standards of research into the languages of deaf communities. SLLS encourages the exchange of information through meetings and publications, particularly the Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) conference series. SLLS signed a memorandum of understanding with the WFD in 2016. In this presentation, we will discuss some of the ways that SLLS members are involved in activities that support sign language rights for all. Many SLLS members work on research into sign language acquisition by deaf and hearing children (Chen Pichler et al., 2018), and on promoting linguistic human rights and the avoidance of language deprivation for deaf children (Humphries et al., 2016). Most SLLS members also work in other less obvious ways in supporting sign language rights, particularly in the linguistic description and documentation of the sign languages of deaf communities. In the last decade, we have seen the rise of corpus-based approaches to sign language linguistics. Corpora are large representative samples of language data that can be search by computer and which can provide a collection for many uses. We have also seen more online dictionaries of sign languages, many of them supported by the work done by sign language researchers. Linguists also work on reference grammars, and work with deaf communities in many parts of the world to document their sign languages, including many endangered village sign languages. Sign language researchers provide evidence to language policy makers, and work to promote linguistic and cultural diversity to government. Sign language corpora, reference grammars and online dictionaries provide invaluable resources to sign language teachers, students and trainee interpreters. The increased understanding of sign language structure and use that comes from the work of linguists leads to improved sign language teaching resources that describe how the language is used within deaf communities. This will in turn enable us to create more reliable and valid sign language assessment instruments, for example. The greater understanding of and improved resources for sign language teaching and learning will also provide an evidence base for policy makers in supporting appropriate education, training and services for deaf children and adults. More appropriate resources for the bilingual education of deaf children and for sign language teaching interpreter training will lead to improved quality of educational and interpreting services for deaf people and provide more opportunities for self-development and employment. All of these aspects of the struggle for sign language rights are supported by the work of SLLS members.

  • 2018. Carl Börstell (et al.).

    The idea of transitivity as a scalar phenomenon is well known (e.g., Hopper & Thompson 1980; Tsunoda 1985; Haspelmath 2015). However, as with most areas of linguistic study, it has been almost exclusively studied with a focus on spoken languages. A rare exception to this is Kimmelman (2016), who investigates transitivity in Russian Sign Language (RSL) on the basis of corpus data. Kimmelman attempts to establish a transitivity prominence hierarchy of RSL verbs, and compares this ranking to the verb meanings found in the ValPal database (Hartmann, Haspelmath & Bradley 2013). He arrives at the conclusion that using the frequency of overt objects in corpus data is a successful measure of transitivity prominence, and that the prominence ranking of RSL verbs correlate with that found for spoken languages in Haspelmath (2015). In this paper, we expand on these intra- and cross-modal comparisons of transitivity prominence by introducing four other sign languages to the sample: Finnish Sign Language (FinSL), Swedish Sign Language (SSL), Sign Language to the Netherlands (NGT), and German Sign Language (DGS). FinSL and SSL are known to be historically related (cf. Bergman & Engberg-Pedersen 2010), while the other are not related, which allows us to look at both modality and relatedness effects in our sample. Of the 80 core verb meanings in the ValPal database, Kimmelman (2016) included the 25 most frequent verbs in his corpus. For our study, we have annotated all occurrences of these 25 verb meanings in a subset of the corpora of FinSL (2h 40min; 18,446 tokens), SSL (2h 5min; 16,724 tokens), NGT (≈80,000 tokens), and DGS (≈58,000 tokens). We annotate whether a verb occurs with an overt object as well as the type of object (direct, indirect, clausal, or a locative). Looking at the ValPal verb meanings with ≥5 sign tokens in all four new languages, we arrive at 12 verbs that are found in all five sign languages and the spoken languages (SpL) of the ValPal database – see Table 1. In Table 1, we see that there is a general agreement across languages – both signed and spoken – in how transitivity prominent a verb meaning is. Spearman’s rank correlation shows a significant (p<0.05) correlation between all possible pairs except SSL–SpL (p=0.091) and SSL– RSL (p=0.074), corroborating Kimmelman’s finding that there are patterns of transitivity prominence present across languages and modalities. It is interesting that SSL thus diverges from the other sign languages in this sample: this deserves further investigation. We also wanted to investigate the transitivity prominence as a property of individual languages. In order to do so, we took the individual languages of the ValPal database and measured each verb meaning in each language with regard to its transitivity prominence. This meant calculating how many of the verb forms associated with a specific verb meaning took a P argument. Note that this is quite different from calculating transitivity prominence based on corpus data: with corpora, we calculated the proportion of verbal tokens occurring with an overt object, and with the ValPal database, we calculated the proportion of transitive verb associated with a particular concept. We included the 12 verb meanings found across all languages (the five sign languages and 33 spoken languages). We then calculated mean distances across verb meanings and languages, and plotted this with multidimensional scaling in Figure 1. In the figure, we see that the five sign languages form a part of a cluster, suggesting either modality-based similarities, or similarities that come with the difference in data (corpus data rather than lexical data). On the other hand, sign languages as a group are not clearly opposed to spoken languages as a group, which implies that the corpus-based and lexical calculations of transitivity are comparable. Interestingly, FinSL and SSL are not more strongly associated than the other sign languages, which implies that their historical relatedness is not directly relevant to transitivity. In our presentation, we will present the results and the conclusions in more detail, as well as discuss the possibilities of using corpus data to establish valency patterns for languages in the signed modality.

    References Bergman, Brita & Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen. 2010. Transmission of sign languages in the Nordic countries. In Diane Brentari (ed.), Sign languages: A Cambridge language survey, 74–94. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Hartmann, Iren, Martin Haspelmath & Taylor Bradley (eds.). 2013. Valency Patterns Leipzig. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Haspelmath, Martin. 2015. Transitivity prominence. In Andrej Malchukov & Bernard Comrie (eds.), Valency classes in the world’s languages: Vol 1 - Introducing the framework, and case studies from Africa and Eurasia, 131–148. Boston, MA: De Gruyter Mouton. Hopper, Paul J. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1980. Transitivity in grammar and discourse. Language 56(2). 251–299. Kimmelman, Vadim. 2016. Transitivity in RSL: A corpus-based account. In Eleni Efthimiou, Stavroula-Evita Fotinea, Thomas Hanke, Julie Hochgesang, Jette Kristoffersen & Johanna Mesch (eds.), Proceedings of the 7th Workshop on the Representation and Processing of Sign Languages: Corpus Mining, 117–120. Paris: European Language Resources Association (ELRA). Tsunoda, Tasaku. 1985. Remarks on transitivity. Journal of Linguistics 21(2). 385. doi:10.1017/S0022226700010318.

  • 2018. Johanna Mesch, Krister Schönström. 8th Workshop on the Representation and Processing of Sign Languages: Involving the Language Community, 121-126

    This paper aims to present part of the project “From Speech to Sign – learning Swedish Sign Language as a second language” which include a learner corpus that is based on data produced by hearing adult L2 signers. The paper describes the design of corpus building and the collection of data for the Corpus in Swedish Sign Language as a Second Language (SSLC-L2). Another component of ongoing work is the creation of a specialized annotation scheme for SSLC-L2, one that differs somewhat from the annotation work in Swedish Sign Language Corpus (SSLC), where the data is based on performance by L1 signers. Also, we will account for and discuss the methodology used to annotate L2 structures.

  • 2018. Ingela Holmström, Johanna Mesch.

    Det finns i Sverige runt 2000 personer under 65 år med dövblindhet. En andel av dem är döva sedan barndomen och har förvärvat sin synnedsättning senare i livet. De har då vanligen svenskt teckenspråk som sitt förstaspråk och har i takt med att synen blivit sämre övergått till att använda sig av taktilt teckenspråk som är en del av det svenska teckenspråket, men som inte i samma utsträckning grundar sig i vad som kan uppfattas visuellt. I den här forskningsrapporten studeras taktil teckenspråkskommunikation och hur de personer med dövblindhet som först lärt sig det visuella svenska teckenspråket innan de övergår till att använda taktilt svenskt teckenspråk använder sig av teckenrummet i dialoger med varandra. Till grund för analysen ligger en korpus som består av åtta informanter i varierande åldrar från olika delar av Sverige. Denna korpus har kunnat skapas tack vare medel från Mo Gårds forskningsfond och arbetet med att annotera dialogerna har pågått allt sedan inspelningarna genomfördes år 2013. Idag har strax under hälften av korpusen annoterats och det är den annoterade delen som ligger till grund för analysen som redovisas i denna rapport. Bland annat beskrivs hur informanterna skapar gemensam mening och förståelse när de inte ser varandra och hur de ger återkopplingar på ett sätt som skiljer sig från hur man gör i det visuella svenska teckenspråket. Dessutom visas skillnader mellan det visuella och taktila svenska teckenspråket avseende andelen bokstaveringar, som är högre i det taktila, liksom förekomsten av pekningar som istället är mindre vanliga där.

  • Article Signed renga
    2017. Johanna Mesch, Michiko Kaneko. African Studies 76 (3), 381-401

    South African Sign Language (SASL) poetry is still exploring many forms of poetry genres. This article describes the recent development of a new ‘genre’ in sign language poetry: signed renga (group poetry). The article will outline the form – what it is, how it has developed and spread, and why it is an apparently successful poetic genre. A sketch of a workshop from Signing Hands Across the Water 2 (SHAW 2) will also be provided to illustrate how renga emerges out of group work. First we will briefly explain common features of signed renga, drawing on a body of signed renga in British, Irish and Swedish Sign Languages. The second half of the article is an in-depth analysis of one signed renga, titled South Africa, which emerged from the SHAW 2 festival, with a focus on transitions as collaborative performance using shared signing space and eye gaze direction

  • 2016. Johanna Mesch. Language & Communication 50, 22-41

    The current study aims to determine the manual backchannel responses that signers use in Swedish Sign Language discourse by analyzing a subset of the SSL Corpus. The investiga- tion found 20% of the backchannel responses in this data to be manual. The study focuses on the manual backchannel responses that consist of signs (mostly the sign gloss YES) and gesture-like signs (PU “palms up”), and other manual activities, which can occur at a relatively low height in signing space. With respect to age groups, younger signers engage in more weak manual activity than older signers.

Show all publications by Johanna Mesch at Stockholm University

Last updated: September 2, 2019

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