The Function, Formation and Development of Signs in the Guide Dog Team’s Work

Biosemiotics 7 (3):447-463 (2014)

Relying on interviews and fieldwork observations, the article investigates the choice of signs made by guide dogs and their visually impaired handlers while the team is on the move. It also explores the dependence of the choice of signs on specific functions of communication and examines the changes and development of sign usage throughout the team’s work. A significant part of the team’s communication appears to be related to retaining the communicative situation itself: to the establishment of intrateam contact; to keeping the other prone to receive messages and to establish adequate sign relations; to giving and receiving feedback. The signs used for the purpose of retaining contact are analyzed in the article mainly with the handler in the role of the addresser. Signs also vary according to the character and aim of the team’s referential communication. Searching for objects and places, orientation and avoidance of obstacles can be discerned as three major functional frames that determine the choice of signs. As the team’s cooperation evolves, so also do the means of communication. The analysis shows that intrateam communication becomes less segmented and the signs used in referential communication shift from symbolic to symptomatic signs and become harder to detect for an outside observer
Keywords Guide dog teams  Interspecies communication  Development of signs
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DOI 10.1007/s12304-014-9199-7
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