WhenOctober 16, 2018 02:00 PM - 03:00 PM
WhereCobb Lecture Hall, Room 106
Contact InformationLinguistics Department
DescriptionKathryn Montemurro (UChicago)

The grammaticalization of the body and space in Nicaraguan Sign Language

We look at the role of spatial modulation in the development of person distinctions in Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), a language that emerged in the late 1970s in Managua. While space has long been studied in young and emerging sign languages (Senghas 2003, 2010, Padden et al. 2010, Kocab et al. 2015), neutral space is not the only resource for modulation (Meir et al. 2007). In mature sign languages, there is a grammatical first/non-first person distinction which poses the body (first) in opposition to neutral space (non-first) (Meier 1990, Engberg-Pedersen 1995). As such, we isolate phonological expressions of both the body and space: the use of points and the use of axis i.e. front-back or left-right (figure 1) to establish R-loci.

We find the body and space enter the language relative to one another. As the spatial layout of the contrast changes to left-right, C3 shows a separation of the signer's body from that of the third person referents of the verb, leading us to hypothesize a distinction between first and non-first person in C3. While we have only third person referents in our current data, as both C1 and C2 use their bodies as a stand-in for a third person participant, we predict they will not distinguish grammatical person. Crucially, cohorts without a person distinction still differentiate participants in an event by using their body in opposition to neutral space to establish the discourse referent. This suggests that contrast - the ability to keep participants separate - is present from C1 without a language model, and factors into the establishment of a person system.

Modalities of Language is a CAS workshop that provides a space for graduate students and faculty members to present and discuss their research. Join us as we explore how the study of sign language, gesture, and their intersection can inform our understanding of language on the whole.
CategoriesConferences/Lectures, Workshops
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