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LOOKing for Multi-word Expressions in American Sign Language

Cite this dataset

Hou, Lynn (2022). LOOKing for Multi-word Expressions in American Sign Language [Dataset]. Dryad.


Usage-based linguistics postulates that multi-word expressions constitute a substantial part of language structure and use, and are formed through repeated chunking and stored as exemplar wholes. They are also re-used to produce new sequences by means of schematization. While there is extensive research on multi-word expressions in many spoken languages, little is known about the status of multi-word expressions in the mainstream U.S. variety of American Sign Language (ASL). This paper investigates recurring multi-word expressions, or sequences of multiple signs, that involve a high-frequency sign of visual perception glossed as LOOK and the family of ‘look’ signs. The LOOK sign exhibits two broad functions: LOOK/‘vision’ references literal or metaphorical vision and LOOK/‘reaction’ signals a person’s reaction to a visual stimulus. Data analysis reveals that there are recurring sequences in distinct syntactic environments associated with the two functions of LOOK, suggesting that LOOK is in the process of grammaticalization from a verb of visual perception to a stance verb. The sequences demonstrate the emergence of linguistic structure from repeated use through the domain-general cognitive process of chunking in ASL.


This dataset was collected by an arbitrary sampling of assorted videos and video blogs (vlogs) in American Sign Language from the internet. These videos were coded for all tokens of the family of 'look' and 'see' signs and the five signs preceding the target sign and the five signs following it. The target sign was also analyzed for their function in the phrasal context. The coding was entered as English glosses in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Then the data was sorted for their functions and also sorted for recurring n-grams.

Usage notes

The majority of the videos are available on YouTube and Vimeo. A few are available through Facebook, which requires an account for logging in to view public posts on individual pages but not in public groups. Other videos are no longer available for public viewing or missing, and thus there are no links provided for these videos.