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Title: Crosslinguistic similarity and variation in the simultaneous morphology of sign languages
Abstract Two differences between signed and spoken languages that have been widely discussed in the literature are: the degree to which morphology is expressed simultaneously (rather than sequentially), and the degree to which iconicity is used, particularly in predicates of motion and location, often referred to as classifier predicates. In this paper we analyze a set of properties marking agency and number in four sign languages for their crosslinguistic similarities and differences regarding simultaneity and iconicity. Data from American Sign Language (ASL), Italian Sign Language (LIS), British Sign Language (BSL), and Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL) are analyzed. We find that iconic, cognitive, phonological, and morphological factors contribute to the distribution of these properties. We conduct two analyses—one of verbs and one of verb phrases. The analysis of classifier verbs shows that, as expected, all four languages exhibit many common formal and iconic properties in the expression of agency and number. The analysis of classifier verb phrases (VPs)—particularly, multiple-verb predicates—reveals (a) that it is grammatical in all four languages to express agency and number within a single verb, but also (b) that there is crosslinguistic variation in expressing agency and number across the four languages. We argue that this variation is motivated by how each language prioritizes, or ranks, several constraints. The rankings can be captured in Optimality Theory. Some constraints in this account, such as a constraint to be redundant, are found in all information systems and might be considered non-linguistic; however, the variation in constraint ranking in verb phrases reveals the grammatical and arbitrary nature of linguistic systems.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Linguistic Review
Page Range / eLocation ID:
571 to 608
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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