Linguistics Colloquium: Diane Brentari

26/04/2022 - 14:00 - 15:30

Diane Brentari, Hebrew University & University of Chicago

Title: Classifier predicates and clause structure: iconicity in grammar  


Classifier constructions (CCs) in sign languages — also called depicting constructions—are complex both morphologically and iconically. This talk addresses the formal and iconic patterns in clauses with an iconic CC as a predicate and an iconic NP licensing argument. For this work, event descriptions with CCs in three historically unrelated sign languages were analyzed—American Sign Language (ASL), Turkish Sign Language (TiD), and Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL). The signed productions included clauses: with patients or instruments (She moves a knife; She cuts cheese with a knife), with an agent or without an agent (She cuts cheese with a knife; The knife cut the cheese), and in typical and atypical contexts (She cuts cheese with a knife; She cuts cheese with scissors). Two types of iconicity handshapes were studied in the CCs: hand-as-hand iconicity (seen in handling handshapes) and hand-as-object iconicity (seen in object handshapes).  

The analyses demonstrate: (1) The association of handling handshapes with agentive events and object handshapes with non-agentive events, replicating previous findings. (2) The salience of the noun is important for the iconicity expressed in the CC; i.e., the more atypical the target object is, the more likely an object handshape will be used. (3) In two of the languages (TiD, HKSL) there was a notable tendency to use the same type of iconicity in both the NP argument and in the CC; however, this tendency was not evident in ASL; therefore, the iconicity of the licensing NP argument partially controls the type of CC handshape in some sign languages. Thus, we see that formal and iconic constraints are active in CCs and they interact to explain typological variation.  




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