The position of wh-items is one of the most striking features of the syntax of sign languages (SLs). In contrast to spoken languages, where wh-words are generally found either clause-initially or in situ, SLs allow wh-signs in situ, in clause-final position (preferred for many SLs), or repeated in two different positions of the clause. Moreover, in many cases all these options coexist in the same language (and even within a single signer). Several proposals in the theoretical literature showed how grammars are able to generate such constructions; however, none of the proposals addresses the issue of what factors determine the choice of these options. We present corpus evidence showing that both linguistic and social factors constrain the distribution of wh-signs in LIS (Lingua dei Segni Italiana, Italian Sign Language). The result of multivariate analysis suggests that LIS is undergoing a grammatical change and becoming less like spoken Italian with respect to the position of wh-signs.
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