Dissertations

of the American Sign Language Linguistic Research Project

These dissertations are available in PDF format for downloading. Click here for general information about downloading files. They are also available on CD-ROM.

Debra Aarons (1994)

Aspects of the Syntax of American Sign Language

Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, Boston, MA.
Dissertation supervisor: Carol Neidle

This dissertation offers an analysis of the syntactic structure of American Sign Language, within the context of X'-theory. The internal structure of the sentence is examined. Despite the difference in modality between signed and spoken languages, one important consequence of this analysis is the conclusion that the basic syntactic structure of American Sign Language conforms to the same fundamental pattern as other natural languages that have been more thoroughly studied by syntacticians.

The first chapter provides background information about the context for linguistic research on American Sign Language, and the methodology involved in the elicitation of native judgments. Chapter 2 discusses previous linguistic research relevant to word order, non-manual marking, wh- questions, and topic constructions in ASL

Chapter 3 is devoted to non-manual grammatical marking: the use of facial expression and movement of the head and upper torso, simultaneously with manual signing, for expression of syntactic information. Since such marking is characteristically manifested over the c-command domain of the node (specifically, the functional head) with which it is associated, the domain of spread provides crucial information about the hierarchical structure of the language. The internal structure of the ASL clause is examined, using evidence from the distribution of non-manual marking.

Chapter 4 presents arguments in support of the claim that wh-words move rightward (and to the canonical structural position for wh-words, namely Specifier of CP). An alternative proposal that the Specifier of CP is to the left and that wh-words move leftward in ASL is shown to be incorrect. In addition, despite claims to the contrary, extraction of wh-words out of embedded clauses does occur.

Topics, occurring in a position left-adjoined to CP, are discussed in Chapter 5. A distinction among several types of topics is demonstrated; these topics differ in their syntactic characteristics and their non-manual marking (distinctions not previously recognized in the literature).

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da@akad.sun.ac.za

Debra Aarons
Department of General Linguistics
University of Stellenbosch
PB X5018
Stellenbosch 7599, South Africa

See also ASLLRP publications and :

Aarons, D. (1995) Hands Full of Meaning. In BUA! Volume 10, No. 1. Salt River, Cape Town: National Language Project.

Aarons, D. (1996) Topics and Topicalization in American Sign Language. In Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 30, 65-106. University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Aarons, D. (1996) Signed Languages and Professional Responsibility. In Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 29, 285-311. University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Lawrence, P. and D. Aarons (1997) Undefended Accused and the Language of the Magistrates' Court. University of Cape Town, Law, Race and Gender Unit. Volume 4. Cape Town: UCT.

Aarons, D. and P. Akach (1998) South African Sign Language -- a sociolinguistic question. In Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 31, 1-28.

Aarons, D., R. Morgan and P. Akach (1998) Sign Language Interpreting -- Linguistic Issues. In Kruger, A. (ed.) Proceedings of the Forum for Language Workers. South African Translators' Institute and Fédération internationale des traducteurs.

Aarons, D., and P. Akach. (1999) Inclusion and the Deaf Child in South African Education. UNESCO Consultation. Pretoria: UNESCO.

Aarons, D. and P. Akach (1998) The Situation of the Deaf in Tertiary Education in South Africa. Report to the Pan South African Language Board, DEAFSA, Johannesburg.

Aarons, D. and L. Reynolds (1999) South African Sign Language: Changing Policies and Practices. In Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 30, 111-144.

Aarons, D., and P. Akach. (in press). South African Sign Language -- one language or many? In Mesthrie, R. (ed.), Language and Social History. Second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aarons, D and R. Morgan. (in press). How many South African Sign Languages are there? In Proceedings of the 13th World Congress of the World federation of the Deaf.

Aarons, D. and L. Reynolds (in press) South African Sign Language: Changing Policies and Practices. In Monaghan, L. (ed.), Many ways to be Deaf. Washington, DC and Hamburg: Gallaudet University Press and Signum Press.

Aarons, D. and R. Morgan (to appear). Polymorphemic Classifier Constructions and their effect on Sign Language syntax. In Emmorey K., Classifiers in Sign Languages, to be published by Lawrence Erlbaum, New Jersey.



Benjamin Bahan (1996)

Non-Manual Realization of Agreement in American Sign Language

Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, Boston, MA.
Dissertation supervisor: Carol Neidle

This dissertation explores the use of head tilt and eye gaze as non-manual grammatical correlates of syntactic agreement in American Sign Language (ASL). While the non-manual grammatical markings characteristic of questions, negative clauses, topics, etc., have been studied, the syntactic functions of head tilt and eye gaze have received little attention in the literature.

In ASL, one important and systematic use of specific locations in the signing space is expression of person features (phi-features). This is evident, for example, in the determiner system, pronominal reference, and manual marking of morphological subject and object verb-agreement. Non-manually, these locations in space can be signaled by the head tilting or eyes gazing to these points in space. We argue here that one major function of head tilt and eye gaze is non-manual expression of syntactic agreement.

In transitive constructions, head tilt is normally used to signal subject agreement, while eye gaze marks object agreement. In intransitive constructions, either device can be used to mark subject agreement. In both transitive and intransitive constructions, the non-manual agreement marking normally begins immediately before the VP is articulated and extends over the VP. The interactions of different realizations of syntactic agreement are also examined.

The basic conclusion with respect to non-manual expression of agreement in ASL is that head tilt and eye gaze are associated with phi-features postulated to occur in the heads of agreement projections, in the same way that other non-manual grammatical correlates have been analyzed to be associated with syntactic features, such as +neg and +wh, occurring in the heads of functional projections. The generalizations proposed by Aarons, Bahan, Kegl, and Neidle (1992) about the distribution of non-manual grammatical markings in ASL then provide a straightforward account for the distribution of head tilt and eye gaze within the clause. Furthermore, striking parallels in the use of head tilt and eye gaze to mark agreement within DP and IP suggest important similarities between the agreement projections internal to DP and IP. We explore the consequences of these findings for an understanding of agreement in ASL and for general theoretical questions about syntactic agreement.

For a pdf version of this dissertation, click here.

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Also available on CD-ROM

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bjbahan@gallua.gallaudet.edu

Benjamin Bahan
Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002



Dawn MacLaughlin (1997)

The Structure of Determiner Phrases:
Evidence from American Sign Language

Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, Boston, MA.
Dissertation supervisor: Carol Neidle

This dissertation explores the structure of the Determiner Phrase (DP) in American Sign Language (ASL), with particular emphasis on determiners, adjectives, possessives, and agreement. The analysis reveals the existence of multiple agreement projections. Agreement features can be expressed manually and non-manually, through head tilt and eye gaze. The non-manual expressions of agreement behave like other non-manual syntactic markings in ASL, spreading over the c-command domain of the marking's source. The distribution of non-manual correlates of agreement provides important evidence for the structure of DP.

DPs in ASL may be associated with a location in space. A definite DP is associated with a point in space while an indefinite DP is associated with an area. The type of spatial location, whether point vs. area, has consequences for the determiner and agreement systems. For example, this distinction accounts for systematic differences in the articulation of definite and indefinite determiners in ASL.

It is argued that determiners and agreement features occur in the same syntactic position. Lexical determiners express agreement features by pointing manually to the location in space associated with the referent. Non-manual expressions of agreement involve head tilt and/or eye gaze pointing to those same locations in space.

Adjectives in ASL may occur either before or after the noun. Prenominal adjectives are analyzed as adjective phrases occurring in the specifier position of a functional projection, while postnominal adjectives are predicate phrases right-adjoined within DP. Evidence from the distribution of non- manual correlates of agreement shows that postnominal adjectives lie within the c-command domain of the functional head containing agreement features.

The possessive construction takes the form of [PossessorDP Possessive-Marker Possessee]. The possessive marker is generated in D, while the possessor DP raises from its base position within NP to the specifier of DP. Predicative possessive constructions are also addressed. There are significant parallels in the expression of agreement within DP and within the clause in ASL. Agreement patterns in possessive and non-possessive DPs parallel those in transitive and intransitive clauses, respectively.

The dissertation explores the consequences of these findings for our understanding of determiner phrases and agreement, both within ASL and crosslinguistically.

For a pdf version of this dissertation, click here.

Click here for general information about downloading files.

Also available on CD-ROM

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dawnmac@attbi.com

Dawn MacLaughlin
Boston University, Linguistics
718 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

 

 


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Page maintained by Carol Neidle, carol@bu.edu.
Last modified, February 16, 2002.