, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 545-579
Date: 17 Jul 2012

A classification of compounds in American Sign Language: an evaluation of the Bisetto and Scalise framework

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Abstract

Cross-linguistic comparisons of compounds are difficult because of the varied criteria and terms used by different linguists (Scalise and Bisetto 2009). To address this problem, Scalise and Bisetto proposed a universal three-level classification of compound types. Although several researchers have shown that American Sign Language (ASL) has compound signs, a classification of compound types in ASL has not been completed. All of the potential compounds in an ASL dictionary (Costello 1994) were identified, then verified as compounds with the help of a fluent deaf signer by applying standard tests for composition. These compounds were then classified using the Scalise and Bisetto classification. We found that Scalise and Bisetto’s three-level hierarchical classification successfully captured cross-category relationships among subtypes of compounds but fails to predict the existence of one type of compound attested in ASL. In our revised classification, a consistent set of criteria is used at each level, resulting in a classification that is both conceptually simpler and empirically more adequate. The second tier category for hierarchical compounds are bifurcated into the categories expressed predicate and unexpressed predicate, according to whether each predicate in a compound’s semantic structure is expressed by one of the overt constituents. The revision has the further advantage of allowing us to avoid any reference to word class/grammatical category in applying our taxonomy, a goal that we show to be desirable on both theoretical and empirical grounds.