M.A. Theses in Linguistics at the University of North Dakota (Abstracts)
Eberle, Sarah 2013
Locative expressions in signed languages: A cross-linguistic comparison
The primary focus of this paper is to examine whether sign languages organize their
locative expressions similarly to spoken languages. Paving the way in the study of spatial
relations by focusing on the structuring of ON and IN locatives in spoken languages,
Bowerman and colleagues (Bowerman 1980; Melissa Bowerman & Eric Pederson 1992a;
Bowerman 1993; 1994; 1996a; 1996b; Bowerman & Levinson 2001) found that spoken
languages organize the locative phrases representing the relationships of ON and IN in a
continuum which is called the ON-IN continuum.
This thesis shows that sign languages do not linguistically pattern similarly to spoken
languages along the ON-IN continuum. One reason for this could be the vast difference
in modality between signed and spoken languages. Essentially, locative constructions in
sign languages contain visual representations which resemble real world spatial
relationships, while spoken languages tend to use arbitrary locative constructions which
do not resemble real world spatial relationships.
Locative constructions in sign languages are created by combining representations
of ground and figure in various ways. Ground and figure can be represented sequentially
or simultaneously by classifiers or lexical items or a combination of the two. In the
discourse leading up to a locative construction a noun representing ground is generally
introduced first followed by a noun representing the figure. Adpositions can also be used
in locative phrases but this was the option least chosen in my data.
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