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Adam Schembri on "Indicating verbs in British Sign Language and verb agreement", 26 August

Australian National University, Shape

Date: 26 August 2015

Authors: Adam Schembri, Jordan Fenlon and Kearsy Cormier

Funding: UK Economic and Social Research Council

Indicating verbs like ASK or GIVE in Auslan and British Sign Language (BSL) move in the signing space between locations associated with their arguments. These verbs have been identified in most if not all sign languages studied to date and have been the source of great theoretical interest and debate. Some (e.g., Rathmann and Mathur, 2012) have argued that directionality is fundamentally the same as grammatical agreement found in spoken languages. One of the arguments for this for American Sign Language has been that modification (at least for the object argument) is obligatory (Meier, 1982). Others (e.g., Corbett, 2006; de Beuzeville et al., 2009) argue that directionality is fundamentally different from agreement due to the pointing behaviour incorporated into these verbs. To move this debate forward, more data are needed about the use of indicating verbs in a range of sign languages (Lillo-Martin and Meier, 2011). The current study considers various linguistic and social factors involved in the use of indicating verbs in the BSL Corpus, a large dataset of 249 deaf signers from 8 regions across the UK. Using ELAN, 1680 tokens of indicating verbs from the BSL Corpus conversational collection (from 100 participants across 4 UK cities) are annotated for the current study. Indicating verbs (including verbs that could potentially be directional) were annotated for linguistic factors including person, number, animacy, co-reference, co-occurrence with constructed action (i.e., non-manual gestures that imitate features of the referent) and lexical frequency and social factors such as signer’s gender, age, region, language background and ethnicity. Results reveal that modification of indicating verbs is not obligatory.

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