Subjects and objects in sign languages Hungarian Academy
Subjects and objects in sign languages Hungarian Academy of Sciences November 3, 2016 Jhannes Gsli Jnsson ([email protected]) University of Iceland Sign languages vs. spoken languages Sign languages are expressed in the gesturalvisual modality but spoken languages employ the vocal-auditory modality. Sign languages are more iconic than spoken
languages in their vocabulary and grammar. Sign languages are much younger than spoken languages. (No sign language in use today is more than 300-400 years old.) Sign language research William Stokoe (1919-2000) was the first scholar to describe the grammar of sign languages in his book Sign Language Structure (1960). He argued that sign languages had the same
basic elements as spoken languages. Research on sign language grammar did not take off until the mid seventies and many sign languages remain understudied. Diachrony Due to their young age, sign languages have had much less time to develop various grammatical markers than spoken languages. This makes a difference for various tests for subjecthood, e.g. those relating to case and
agreement. TM vs. Icelandic Sign languages have generally more freedom of word order than spoken languages. Thus, adjectives and demonstratives can follow nouns and verbs can follow their objects in Icelandic Sign Language (TM) but not in spoken Icelandic: (1a) CAR YELLOW/THIS (1b) HE BISCUIT ATE
Null hypothesis Still, it has been argued that word order in languages like ASL is subject to various restrictions. Null hypothesis: Sign languages have subjects and objects just like spoken languages. Subjects and objects It is easy to distinguish subjects from objects in
languages with a fairly rigid word order, but not in languages with a relatively free word order. It is usually assumed that sign languages have grammatical functions like subject and object. Cormier, Fenlon & Schembri (2015) express some skepticism about this; see also Engberg-Pedersen (2002) and Bouchard (1996). No case Some subject properties that are familiar from spoken languages do not apply to sign
languages. For instance, case marking in many spoken languages is based on grammatical functions (NOM for subjects and ACC for objects). This does not apply to sign languages because they do not have morphological case. Agreement Another subject property of many spoken languages is that (nominative) subjects trigger (person and number) agreement with
the finite verb, but objects do not. This does not straightforwardly carry over to sign languages, where agreement is only found with so called agreement verbs. (The other two classes are spatial verbs and plain verbs.) Subject vs. object agreement There seems to be a contrast between subjects and objects of agreement verbs. Meir (2002) claims that the orientation or
facing of the hands is determined by grammatical function. The facing is towards the direct object of verbs with one object and the indirect object of ditransitive verbs. Subject before object The clearest evidence for grammatical functions like subject and object in sign languages comes from word order. All established sign languages that have been
studied are either SVO or SOV. The subject precedes the verb and the object in the basic word order of all established sign languages. Word order SVO is the basic word order in ASL: (2) FATHER LOVE CHILD (Valli et al. 2011:112) Some deviations from this order are possible but they tend to be marked in some way. Importantly, topicalized objects are
accompanied by non-manual markers in ASL, e.g. a forward head tilt and a pause. Object first top (3) CHILD FATHER LOVE (ASL, Valli et al. 2011:114) Object-first orders can also arise because of Subject Pronoun Copy, accompanied by subject pro-drop: (4) pro BOOK BUY IX3a (NGT, Perniss et al. 2007:15) He buys a book.
Wh-questions in TM Wh-questions in TM are formed by wh-in-situ (by speakers over 40) (Brynjlfsdttir 2012) Hence, they show the base position of subjects and objects in TM: (5a) NEW.YEARS.EVE YOU EAT WHAT? (signwiki.is) (5b) WHO DESTROY THIS MOBILE.PHONE? Verb + object = VP
Objects are inside the VP headed by the verb whereas subjects are outside VP. Evidence for a VP constituent in sign languages comes from various phenomena where VPs behave like syntactic units, e.g. topicalization: top hn (6) LOVE MARY, JOHN (ASL, Aarons 1994:87) Negative non-manuals
The negative headshake of DGS spreads in the absence of a manual negation and it must spread to the whole VP (Pfau 2002): neg (7a) MAN FLOWER RED BUY neg (7b) *MAN FLOWER RED BUY Adverb placement Quadros & Lillo-Martin (2010:229-230) claim that adverbs like YESTERDAY or SOMETIMES
in LSB and ASL cannot break up the string verb + object, despite their relatively free distribution. This follows naturally if verbs and their objects form a VP. Adverbs in TM Adverbs cannot break up a VP in TM either: (8a) ADV subject verb - object (8b) subject ADV verb - object (8c) *subject verb - ADV object
(8d) subject verb object ADV (YESTERDAY HE READ BOOK) Anaphora Reflexives in spoken languages display a clear subject-object asymmetry: A reflexive object can refer to a subject but a reflexive subject cannot refer to an object. This is also true of sign languages: (9a) IX-a TALK ABOUT SELF+IX-a He talks about himself. (9b) *SELF-a TALK ABOUT IX-a Himself talks about him.
(NGT, Kimmelman 2009:32) Subject Pronoun Copy One construction that distinguishes subjects from objects in some sign languages is subject pronoun copy (Padden 1988). A clause-final pronoun refering to the subject, often accompanied by a head nod: (10) WOMAN BUY CAR PRO-3 The woman is buying a car, she is. (Auslan, Johnston & Schembri 2007:204)
Auslan The constituent which the sentence-final pronoun refers to can be a full NP or a pronominal. It can also be null: (11) DANCE PRO-3 (Auslan, Johnston & Schembri 2007:204) She is dancing. Pronoun copy seems to be restricted to subjects in Auslan.
ASL Both subject and object pronoun copies are possible in ASL. In fact, the same clause in ASL can have two copies but the subject copy must precede the object copy. (12) JOHNi LIKE IXj, IXi, IXj (Neidle et al. 2000:172) John likes her, him, her. NGT
There are conflicting claims in the literature on NGT about subject pronoun copy. Bos (1995): Pronoun copy is restricted to subjects in NGT. Gijn (2004): Pronoun copy is much more common with subjects than objects . Crasborn et al. (2009): Pronoun copy actually refers to the topic of the sentence, including spatio-temporal elements. Null arguments
Subjects and objects are often unexpressed in sign languages. Context plays a crucial role in licensing such arguments, at least with plain verbs: (13a) re WANT TEA Do you want tea? (13b) WANT Yes, I do.
(Auslan, Johnston & Schembri 2007:208) Null subjects vs. objects Lillo-Martin (1986) claims that there is a subject-object asymmetry with respect to null arguments of plain verbs in ASL. Null subjects of plain verbs can occur within islands , but null objects cannot: (14) aMOTHER, apro DONT-KNOW WHAT (apro) LIKE
Motherj, she doesnt know whatk (shej) likes Conclusions Sign languages have grammatical functions (subjects and objects) just like spoken languages. The clearest evidence for this comes from word order facts (subjects precede objects in basic word order; objects form a VP with the verb). Some tests for subjecthood work only in some sign languages and many potential tests remain
to be investigated. References, 1 Aarons, D. 1994. Aspects of the syntax of American Sign Language. PhD dissertation, Boston University. Bos, H. 1995. Pronoun copy in Sign Language of the Netherlands. In: Bos, H. & T. Schermer (eds.), Sign language research 1994: Proceedings of the Fourth European Congress on Sign Language Research, Munich, September 13, 1994. Hamburg: Signum, 121-147. Bouchard, D. 1996. Sign language and language universals: The status of order and position in grammar. Sign Language Studies 91, 101-160. Brynjlfsdttir, E. G. 2012. Hva gerir vi peningana sem frin Hamborg gaf r?
Myndun hv-spurninga slenska tknmlinu. [The formation of wh-questions in TM.] MAthesis, University of Iceland, Reykjavk. Cormier, K., J. Fenlon, & A. Schembri. Indicating verbs in British Sign Language favour motivated use of space. Open Linguistics 1.1 (2015): 684-707. Crasborn, O., E. van der Kooij, J. Ros & H. de Hoop. 2009. Topic agreement in NGT (Sign Language of the Netherlands). The Linguistic Review 26, 355-370. Engberg-Pedersen, E. 2002. Grammatical relations in Danish Sign Language: Topic and subject. In: Pajunen, A (ed.): Mimesis, sign, and the evolution of language 3. Publications in general linguistics, University of Turku, 5-40. References, 2 van Gijn, I. 2004. The quest for sytactic dependency. Sentential
complementation in Sign Language of the Netherlands. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Amsterdam. Johnston, T., & A. Schembri. 2007. Australian Sign Language: An Introduction to sign language linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kimmelman, V. 2009. Reflexive pronouns in Russian Sign Language and Sign Language of the Netherlands. University of Amsterdam, MA-thesis. Lillo-Martin, D. 1986. Two kinds of null arguments in American Sign Language. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 4, 415-444. Meir, I. 2002. A cross-modality perspective on verb agreement. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 20(2), 413-450.
Padden, C. A. 1988. Interaction of morphology and syntax in American Sign Language. New York: Garland. References, 3 Perniss, P., R. Pfau & M. Steinbach. 2007. Cant you see the difference? Sources of variation in sign language structure. Perniss, P., R. Pfau & M. Steinbach (eds.), Visible variation: Comparative studies on sign language structure. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton, 1-34. Pfau, R. 2002. Applying morphosyntactic and phonological readjustment rules in natural language negation. In: Meier, R. P., K. Cormier & D. Quinto-Pozos (eds.), Modality and structure in signed and spoken
languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 263-295. Quadros, R. Mller de & D. Lillo-Martin. 2010. Clause structure (chapter 11). In: Brentari, D. (ed.): Sign languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 225-251. Valli, C., C. Lucas, K. J. Mulrooney & M. Villanueva. 2011. Linguistics of American Sign Language: An introduction. Gallaudet University Press, Washington, D.C.
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