Sign language socialization and participant frameworks in three indigenous Mesoamerican communities


  • Laura Horton University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Lynn Hou University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Austin German The University of Texas at Austin
  • Jenny Singleton Stony Brook University



language socialization, sign language, Mesoamerica, visual language, participant frameworks


This article provides a cross-cultural study of language socialization through sign language in three indigenous Mesoamerican communities. We explore whether child signers are socialized to use visual communicative practices as participants or observers. We present four conversations that illustrate how child signers are socialized into these practices. Child signers in our study acquire appropriate visual practices, even when they are primarily observers. But sign language socialization practices may be distinct from broader patterns of spoken language socialization in terms of participant frameworks. We find that recognition of child signers as full participants in sign conversation is shaped by a constellation of local child-rearing beliefs and language ecology dynamics.

Author Biographies

  • Laura Horton, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Laura Horton is an Assistant Professor in the Language Sciences Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on sign language documentation with particular attention to lexical variation, pragmatics, and discourse structure. She works on local sign languages from Guatemala as well as sign language socialization and acquisition in classroom settings in the United States.

  • Lynn Hou, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Lynn Hou is assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her areas of specialization are documentation and description of sign languages, child language acquisition of signed languages, usage-based and ethnographic approaches to acquisition, linguistic ethnography including language socialization and language ideologies, inclusion and social justice in linguistics.

  • Austin German, The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin German is a doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on Zinacantec Family Homesign, a signed language developed by three deaf siblings and their hearing extended family members in Zinacantán, an indigenous community of Chiapas, Mexico. His research interests include the relationship between community structure and grammatical structure in emergent sign languages, and how variation in the learning environment influences an individual’s language development.

  • Jenny Singleton, Stony Brook University

    Jenny Singleton is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at Stony Brook University in New York. Her research sits at the intersection of psychology, linguistics and education. She uses experimental, language elicitation, and observational research methods to investigate sign language acquisition. Her overarching research question aims to understand the role of language modality (spoken or signed) and socialization patterns present during the language acquisition process, especially when the learner, or the learning context, are considered atypical.


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How to Cite

Horton, L., Hou, L., German, A., & Singleton, J. (2023). Sign language socialization and participant frameworks in three indigenous Mesoamerican communities. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 7(2), 288-319.