Simultaneity as a unique property of visual-spatial language: the simultaneous structure of two-handed classifier predicates in bimodal ASL/English narrative ebooks for Deaf children*
Swarthmore College. Dept. of Linguistics
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Simultaneity, or the co-occurrence of linguistic material at any level, is widely recognized as a fundamental property of the grammar of signed languages, a natural consequence of their visual-spatial modality. Enabled by multiple separate articulation tracts, including both hands, the upper torso and face (the non-manual articulators), signers across a broad variety of unrelated signed languages exploit both sequentiality and simultaneity to transmit a linguistic message (Vermeerbergen et aI2007). In American Sign Language (ASL), simultaneity is particularly relevant to what many sign language linguists term 'classifier predicates', where the handshape parameter serves to specify an argument by indicating a noun class, while physio-spatial properties of the hand including location, orientation, and movement serve to predicate the argument (Supalla 1986). Often described as a means of 'saying by showing', classifier predicates inventively and efficiently exploit the related properties of simultaneity and iconicity to a much higher degree than frozen lexical signs. While research has begun to illuminate the complex form and function of simultaneity in classifier predicates in regular conversation, my thesis contextualizes this evidence in a new and increasingly important register: bimodal narratives directed toward children who use sign language. Using a small corpus of ASLIEnglish ebooks from a collaborative project between students of Swarthmore College and Gallaudet University, my thesis describes the structure of two-handed classifier predicates in this dataset, concluding that the morphological constraints on simultaneity appear to be upheld in this register.