Forging a morphological system out of two dimensions: Agentivity and number

L. Horton 1 , S. Goldin-Meadow 1 , M. Coppola 2 , A. Senghas 3 ,  and D. Brentari 1
  • 1 University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA
  • 2 University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, 06269, USA
  • 3 Barnard College, New York, NY, 10027, USA

Abstract

Languages have diverse strategies for marking agentivity and number. These strategies are negotiated to create combinatorial systems. We consider the emergence of these strategies by studying features of movement in a young sign language in Nicaragua (NSL). We compare two age cohorts of Nicaraguan signers (NSL1 and NSL2), adult homesigners in Nicaragua (deaf individuals creating a gestural system without linguistic input), signers of American and Italian Sign Languages (ASL and LIS), and hearing individuals asked to gesture silently. We find that all groups use movement axis and repetition to encode agentivity and number, suggesting that these properties are grounded in action experiences common to all participants. We find another feature – unpunctuated repetition – in the sign systems (ASL, LIS, NSL, Homesign) but not in silent gesture. Homesigners and NSL1 signers use the unpunctuated form, but limit its use to No-Agent contexts; NSL2 signers use the form across No-Agent and Agent contexts. A single individual can thus construct a marker for number without benefit of a linguistic community (homesign), but generalizing this form across agentive conditions requires an additional step. This step does not appear to be achieved when a linguistic community is first formed (NSL1), but requires transmission across generations of learners (NSL2).

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Anderson, Stephen. 1992. A-morphous Morphology. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

  • Aronoff, Mark. 1994. Morphology by Itself: Stems and Inflectional Classes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Benedicto, Elena, Diane Brentari. 2004. Where did all the arguments go?: Argument-Changing properties of classifiers in ASL. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 22, pp. 743-810.

  • Brentari, Diane. 1998. A Prosodic Model of Sign Language Phonology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Brentari, Diane, Marie Coppola, Laura Mazzoni, Susan Goldin-Meadow et al. 2012. When does a system become phonological? Handshape production in gesturers, signers, and homesigners. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 30, pp. 1-31.

  • Brentari, Diane, Marie Coppola, Ashley Jung, Susan Goldin-Meadow et al. 2013. Acquiring word class distinctions in American Sign Language. Language Learning and Development 9, pp. 130-150.

  • Brentari, Diane, Marie Coppola. 2013. What sign language creation teaches us about language. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science 4, pp. 201–211.

  • Brentari, Diane, Alessio Di Renzo, Jonathan Keane, Virginia Volterra et al. 2015. Cognitive, Cultural and Linguistic Sources of a Handshape Distinction Expressing Agentivity. TopiCS 7, pp. 95-123.

  • Carrigan, Emily, Marie Coppola. 2013. Mothers do not drive structure in adult homesign systems: Evidence from comprehension.In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, R. Cooper, et al. (eds.), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Sapporo, Japan: Cognitive Science Society, pp. 1398-1403.

  • Coppola, Marie, Elissa Newport. 2005. Grammatical Subjects in home sign: Abstract linguistic structure in adult primary gesture systems without linguistic input. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102, pp. 19249-19253.

  • Coppola, Marie, Elizabet Spaepen, Susan Goldin-Meadow et al. 2013. Communicating about number without a language model: Number devices in homesign grammar. Cognitive Psychology 67, pp. 1-25.

  • Coppola, Marie, Diane Brentari 2014. From iconic handshapes to grammatical constrasts: longitudinal evidence from a child homesigner. Frontiers in Psychology 5, pp. 1-23.

  • Corbett, Greville. 2000. Number. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Crasborn, Otto, Han Sloetjes. 2008. Enhanced ELAN functionality for sign language corpora, in Proceedings of LREC, Sixth International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation.

  • De Vos, Connie. 2013. Sign-spatiality in Kata Kolok: How a village sign language in Bali inscribes its signing space. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.

  • ELAN. EUDICO Linguistic Annotator. Available online at: http://tla.mpi.nl/tools/tla-tools/elan/

  • Emmorey, Karen, Melissa Herzig. 2003. Perspectives on classifier constructions in sign language. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  • Gershkoff-Stowe, Lisa, Susan Goldin-Meadow. 2002. Is there a natural order for expressing semantic relations? Cognitive Psychology 45, pp. 375-412.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan. 2003. The resilience of language: What gesture creation in deaf children can tell us about how all children learn language. In J. Werker, H. Wellman et al (eds.), Essays in Developmental Psychology series. New York: Psychology Press.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan. 2015. The impact of time on predicate forms in the manual modality: Signers, homesigners, and silent gesturers. TopICS 7 (2015), pp. 169-184. doi 10.1111/tops.12119.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Carolyn Mylander 1984. Gestural communication in deaf children: the effects and noneffects of parental input on early language development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 49, pp. 1-151.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Butcher, Cynthia, Carolyn Mylander, Mark Dodge et al. 1994. Nouns and Verbs in a Self-Styled Gesture System: What’s in a Name? Cognitive Psychology 27, pp. 259-319.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Carolyn Mylander, Cynthia Butcher et al. 1995. The resilience of combinatorial structure at the word level: Morphology in self-styled gesture systems. Cognition 56, pp. 195-262.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, David McNeill, Jenny Singleton et al. 1996. Silence is liberating: Removing the handcuffs, on grammatical expression in the manual modality. Psychological Review 103, pp. 34-55.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Carolyn Mylander. 1998. Spontaneous sign systems created by deaf children in two cultures. Nature 391, pp. 279-281.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Carolyn Mylander, Amy Franklin et al. 2007. How children make language out of gesture: Morphological structure in gesture systems developed by American and Chinese deaf children. Cognitive Psychology 55, pp. 87-135.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Asli Ozyurek, B. Sancar, Carolyn Mylander et al. 2009. Making language around the globe: A cross-linguistic study of homesign in the United States, China, and Turkey. In J. Guo, E. Lieven, N. Budwig & S. Ervin-Tripp et al. (eds.), Crosslinguistic approaches to the psychology of language: Research in the tradition of Dan Isaac Slobin. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, pp. 27-39.

  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan, Diane Brentari, Marie Coppola, Laura Horton, Ann Senghas et al. 2015. Watching language grow in the manual modality: Nominals, predicates and handshapes. Cognition 136, pp. 381-395.

  • Janis, Wynne. 1992. Morphosyntax of the ASL verb phrase. PhD thesis. Buffalo, New York: State University of New York, USA.

  • Kegl, Judy. 1990. Predicate argument structure and verb-class organization in the ASL lexicon. In C. Lucas, ed., Sign language research: Theoretical issues. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, pp. 149–175.

  • Kegl, Judy, Gail Iwata. 1989. Lenguaje de Signos Nicaraguense: A pidgin sheds light on the “creole”? ASL. Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Pacific Linguistics Conference. University of Oregon, Eugene.

  • Kegl, Judy, Ann Senghas, Marie Coppola, et al. 1999. Creation through contact: Sign language emergence and sign language change in Nicaragua. In M. DeGraff (ed.), Language creation and language change: Creolization diachrony, and development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp, 179–237.

  • Malaia, E., Wilbur, R. B., & Milković, M. (2013). Kinematic Parameters of Signed Verbs. Journal Of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 56(5), pp. 1677-1688.

  • Matthews, Peter. 1991. Morphology (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics), 2nd Ed. New York: Cambridge University.

  • Meir, Irit, Wendy Sandler, Carol Padden, Mark Aronoff et al. 2010. Emerging Sign Languages. In M. Marschark and P. Spencer (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Mithun, Marianne. 1991. Active/ agentive case marking and its motivations. Language 67, pp. 510-546.

  • Nyst, Victoria. 2010. Sign Language Varieties in West Africa. In D. Brentari, ed. Sign Languages: A Cambridge language survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 405-432.

  • Ozyurek, Asli, Reyhan Furman, Susan Goldin-Meadow et al. 2015. On the way to language: Event segmentation in homesign and gesture. Journal of Child Language 42, pp. 64-94.

  • Padden, Carol, Irit Meir, Mark Aronoff, Wendy Sandler et al. 2010. The grammar of space in two new sign languages. In D. Brentari (ed.), Sign Languages: A Cambridge Language Survey. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Pustejovsky, James. 1991. The syntax of event structure. Cognition 41, pp. 47-81.

  • Polich, Laura. 2005. The emergence of the deaf community in Nicaragua: “With sign langauge you can learn so much”. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

  • Pfau, Roland, Marcus Steinbach. 2006. Pluralization in sign and in speech: A cross-modal typological study. Linguistic Typology 10, pp. 49–135.

  • Sandler, Wendy, Irit Meir, Carol Padden, Mark Aronoff et al. 2005. The emergence of grammar in a new sign language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, pp. 2661-2665.

  • Senghas, Ann. 2003. Intergenerational influence and ontogenetic development in the emergence of spatial grammar in Nicaraguan Sign Language. Cognitive Development 18, pp. 511–531.

  • Senghas, Ann, Marie Coppola. 2001. Children creating language: How Nicaraguan Sign Language acquired a spatial grammar. Psychological Science 12, pp. 323-328.

  • Singleton, Jenny, Elissa Newport. 2004. When learners surpass their models: The acquisition of American Sign Language from inconsistent input. Cognitive Psychology 49, pp. 370-407.

  • Singleton, Jenny, Jill Morford, Susan Goldin-Meadow et al. 1993. Once is not enough: Standards of well-formedness in manual communication created over three different timespans. Language 69, pp. 683-715.

  • Stokoe, William. 1960. Sign Language Structure: an outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. In, Studies in linguistics. Occasional papers; 8. Buffalo: Dept. of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.

  • Strickland, B., Geraci, C., Chemla, E., Schlenker, P., Kelepir, M., & Pfau, R. (2015). Event representations constrain the structure of language: Sign language as a window into universally accessible linguistic biases. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 112(19). p. 5968.

  • Supalla, Ted. 1982. Structure and acquisition of verbs of motion and location in American Sign Language. PhD Thesis. San Diego, CA: University of California, USA.

  • Wilbur, R. B. (2008). Complex predicates involving events, time, and aspect: Is this why sign languages look so similar? In J. Quer (Ed.), Signs of the time: Selected papers from TISLR 8. Hamburg, Germany: Signum. pp. 217–250.

  • Zeshan, Ulrike, Connie de Vos (eds.). 2012. Sign Languages in Village Communities: Anthropological and Linguistic Insights. Njimegen: Ishara.

OPEN ACCESS

Journal + Issues

Open Linguistics is a new academic peer-reviewed journal covering all areas of linguistics. The objective of this journal is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to a broad spectrum of topics: descriptive linguistics, theoretical linguistics and applied linguistics.

Search