Perspective in signed discourse: the privileged status of the signer’s locus and gaze

Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen 1
  • 1 University of Copenhagen, Denmark


In gesture studies character viewpoint and observer viewpoint (McNeill 1992) characterize co-speech gestures depending on whether the gesturer’s hand and body imitate a referent’s hand and body or the hand represents a referent in its entirety. In sign languages, handling handshapes and entity handshapes are used in depicting predicates. Narratives in Danish Sign Language (DTS) elicited to make signers describe an event from either the agent’s or the patient’s perspective demonstrate that discourse perspective is expressed by which referent, the agent or the patient, the signers represent at their own locus. This is reflected in the orientation and movement direction of the manual articulator, not by the type of representation in the articulator. Signers may also imitate the gaze direction of the referent represented at their locus or have eye contact with the addressees. When they represent a referent by their own locus and simultaneously have eye contact with the addressee, the construction mixes referent perspective and narrator perspective. This description accords with an understanding of linguistic perspective as grounded in bodily perspective within a physical scene (Sweetser 2012) and relates the deictic and attitudinal means for expressing perspective in sign languages to the way perspective is expressed in spoken languages.

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