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Pointing and placing: Nominal grounding in Argentine Sign Language

Rocío Martínez and Sherman Wilcox
From the journal Cognitive Linguistics


Grounding refers to expressions that establish a connection between the ground and the content evoked by a nominal or finite clause. In this paper we report on two grammatical implementations of nominal grounding in Argentine Sign Language: pointing and placing. For pointing constructions, we also examine distal-proximal pointing and directive force. We introduce the concept of placing, in which a sign is produced at a specific meaningful location in space. Two types of placing are discussed: Placing-for-Creating, in which a new meaningful location is created, and Placing-by-Recruiting, which recruits an existing meaningful location. We suggest that our analysis of pointing and placing provides an account of nominal grounding unified by general cognitive principles as described within the theory of Cognitive Grammar. Pointing is known to occur in all signed languages studied to date. Although previously undocumented, we suggest that placing is also common to many, perhaps all, signed languages.


We would like to thank the Fulbright Commission and the Ministry of Education in Argentina, which funded Dr Martínez’s short stay at the University of New Mexico. We also gratefully thank Pablo Lemmo, Diego Morales, and Eliana Rodríguez for allowing us to publish their images extracted from the original videos. The Deaf signers who provided LSA data were: María Rosa Druetta, Pablo Lemmo, Verónica Armand, Diego Morales, Fernanda Olmos, Eliana Rodríguez, and Alejandro Makotrinsky. We especially acknowledge Dr María Ignacia Massone, Pablo Lemmo, Diego Morales, Dr Claudia Borzi, Dr Laura Hirrel, BriAnne Amador, Sara Siyavoshi, and the anonymous reviewers for their many suggestions and insightful comments. Finally, we wish to offer special thanks to Alejo González and Phyllis Wilcox for their constant support.


A. Data Sources Corpus

In preparing our analysis, we consulted 15 videos produced by LSA signers that belong to different genres. In this article, we present and discuss the following selection of representative examples that correspond to half of the consulted videos.

N#Topic of the video; Genre; Signer(s)MethodologyAvailable onlineData source for examples; timecode
1My new teacher; Comment; Pablo.Topic: Talk about something that happened to you recently.NoEx. 1
2Deaf Cinderella; Folk tale adapted to the Deaf world; Verónica.Non-elicited material: This narrative has been created for a storytelling contest in LSA, and then was uploaded to YouTube by the same signer.Yes ( 2 (00:26–00:36)
3News concerning the National Association of the Deaf in Argentina; Deaf political discourse; Diego.Non-elicited material: This video is an official message from the vice-president of the National Association of the Deaf in Argentina (Confederación Argentina de Sordos, CAS).Yes ( 3 (00:21–00:45)
4The lion; Educational material; Eliana.Non-elicited material: Series of videos in LSA about animals in the zoo for kids.Yes ( 4 (00:49–01:06)
Ex. 7 (00:40–00:48)
5Name signs in the US and in Argentina; Conversation in WhatsApp; Diego.Topic: The signer was asked about differences in the creation of name signs in the US and in Argentina, and his video is the reply.NoEx. 5
6José de San Martín; Biography; Diego.Topic: Choose an historic or fictional character you like, and tell me everything you know about him or her.NoEx. 6
7Strategies for explaining the linguistic problems of the Deaf community in Argentina to people not acquainted; Deaf political discourse; Pablo and Alejandro.Non-elicited material: This discourse has been uploaded two days before a demonstration to support the bill on the national recognition of Argentine Sign Language. These are two Deaf leaders of the Movimiento Argentino de Sordos (MAS).Yes ( 8 (01:08–01:12)

Ex. 9 (01:13–01:17)

Ex. 10 (01:46–01:53)

Appendix B. Conventions for Glossing

GLOSSClosest meaning in written language to the meaning of the sign in LSA. E.g. TABLE.
GLOSS-GLOSSA sign that needs more than one written word to give complete information on its meanings. E.g. LONG-TABLE.
[GLOSS GLOSS]-BODYrightThe bracketed glosses indicate the extension of meaningful non-manual information.
[GLOSS GLOSS]-question
1GLOSS2A sign that has information on person within its structure. E.g. 1TELL2 (“I tell you”); PRO1 (“I”).
IXIndex finger (a kind of pointing device).
GLOSS(location)A sign that is made in a specific location within the signing space.
GLOSS(inflection)Change in the sign that adds grammatical information. E.g. Perfective aspect (perf.), plural (pl.),
GLOSS+Repetition of a sign
SAME(rel.)Function word that introduces a relative clause.
< GLOSS GLOSS >Embedded relative clause.
GLOSS(2H)A sign that is made with two hands that usually is done with one hand, or a sign that -having both options- is done in the two-handed version.
PROPersonal pronoun
NDHNon-dominant hand
DHDominant hand


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Received: 2018-01-25
Revised: 2018-07-26
Accepted: 2018-07-27
Published Online: 2018-11-28
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

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