Phonetic differences between affirmative and feedback head nods in German Sign Language (DGS): A pose estimation study



This study investigates head nods in natural dyadic German Sign Language (DGS) interaction, with the aim of finding whether head nods serving different functions vary in their phonetic characteristics. Earlier research on spoken and sign language interaction has revealed that head nods vary in the form of the movement. However, most claims about the phonetic properties of head nods have been based on manual annotation without reference to naturalistic text types and the head nods produced by the addressee have been largely ignored. There is a lack of detailed information about the phonetic properties of the addressee’s head nods and their interaction with manual cues in DGS as well as in other sign languages, and the existence of a form-function relationship of head nods remains uncertain. We hypothesize that head nods functioning in the context of affirmation differ from those signaling feedback in their form and the co-occurrence with manual items. To test the hypothesis, we apply OpenPose, a computer vision toolkit, to extract head nod measurements from video recordings and examine head nods in terms of their duration, amplitude and velocity. We describe the basic phonetic properties of head nods in DGS and their interaction with manual items in naturalistic corpus data. Our results show that phonetic properties of affirmative nods differ from those of feedback nods. Feedback nods appear to be on average slower in production and smaller in amplitude than affirmation nods, and they are commonly produced without a co-occurring manual element. We attribute the variations in phonetic properties to the distinct roles these cues fulfill in turn-taking system. This research underlines the importance of non-manual cues in shaping the turn-taking system of sign languages, establishing the links between such research fields as sign language linguistics, conversational analysis, quantitative linguistics and computer vision.

Marc Schulder
Marc Schulder
Research Associate in Computational Linguistics

My research interests include sign languages, natural language processing, and open science.