Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 99–139

Along the time line

Tense and time adverbs in Italian Sign Language

DOI: 10.1007/s11050-008-9032-4

Cite this article as:
Zucchi, S. Nat Lang Semantics (2009) 17: 99. doi:10.1007/s11050-008-9032-4


In Italian Sign Language (LIS), when past or future time adverbs are present, the signs for verbs exhibit the same manual configurations whether the sentence reports a past event or a future event. Facts of this kind, also observed for American Sign Language (ASL) and other sign languages, have led some authors (Friedman, among others) to conclude that these languages, on a par with spoken languages like Chinese, lack grammatical tense. Neidle et al. and Jacobowitz and Stokoe have challenged this view for ASL and have argued that ASL sentences contain tense markers. I present some data showing that LIS verbs inflect for tense. I argue, moreover, that the apparent lack of tense inflection when LIS past and future time adverbs are present is due to the fact that these adverbs shift the s-point and that LIS past and future tenses are absolute tenses. I provide a formal account of the LIS tense system based on these assumptions. The account is implemented in Heim’s analysis of tense.


SemanticsSign LanguageTenseAdverbs

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di FilosofiaUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanoItaly