Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 207–234 | Cite as

Temporal and modal anaphora in sign language (ASL)



We suggest that data from American Sign Language (ASL) provide overt evidence for Partee’s and Stone’s claim that natural language has anaphoric constructions in the temporal and modal domains (Partee 1973; Stone 1997). We provide four arguments. (i) Like nominal and locative expressions, temporal and modal constructions can establish loci that can then be indexed by later pronouns. (ii) As is the case in the nominal and locative domains, anaphoric constructions can involve singular, dual, trial, and plural pronouns. (iii) When the antecedent is existential, patterns of inference obtain which are characteristic of E-type anaphora. (iv) Finally, temporal and modal anaphora give rise to patterns of ‘locative shift’ which are also found with geographical locations. The last observation suggests that temporal and modal reference is particularly similar to locative reference.


Sign language Semantics Anaphora Temporal anaphora Modal anaphora 



Many thanks to Jonathan Lamberton, David Rivera and Maleni Chaitoo for help with the ASL data. I am very grateful to Gaurav Mathur for making several helpful suggestions; participants to the first Venice FEAST (2010) also provided useful feedback. Special thanks to Jonathan Lamberton, who has provided exceptionally fine-grained data throughout this research, and has checked and corrected the transcriptions of the videos cited in this article. The paper was improved thanks to comments by four anonymous reviewers for Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, and by Editor Maria Polinsky. This work was supported in part by an NSF grant (BCS-0802671), and by a Euryi grant from the European Science Foundation (‘Presuppositions: A Formal Pragmatic Approach’). Neither foundation is responsible for the claims made here. The research reported in this work also contributes to the COST Action IS1006.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS and NYUParisFrance

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