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Argument Structure in Peruvian Sign Language

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Formal Approaches to Languages of South America

Abstract

This chapter offers an analysis of Peruvian Sign Language argument structure. It argues, following insights from research on other sign languages, that there is a correlation between the type of certain classifiers and the type of predicates predicted by the Unaccusative Hypothesis. In addition, it shows how the operation Agree values the specific features of each classifier, accounting for their handshape. Furthermore, it provides evidence in favor of the assumption that externalization of sign language syntactic structures follows a layering system, where various pieces of grammatical information can be externalized simultaneously, expressing predicates and arguments in a single sign.

I’d like to express my deep thanks the several Deaf consultants that made research on LSP possible, and also to Alexandra Arnaiz, LSP interpreter, for her invaluable help. Many thanks, too, to Cilene Rodrigues and Andrés Saab for several comments that greatly improved the shape of this chapter. Any remaining flaw is my own.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is interesting to notice how effortlessly a prescriptive discourse arises in a linguistic community. Of course, this is not specific of Deaf communities, as can be easily confirmed by the myriad of prescriptivist discussions oral language speakers have all over the world.

  2. 2.

    For the purpose of this chapter, a “native signer” is a LSP signer who has acquired her language from the beginning of her life, i.e., a Deaf individual who has been raised in a Deaf family. This is crucial because, given that Spanish is a SVO language, LSP interpreters (all of them Spanish speakers) tend to sign in SVO fashion, and their LSP (which appears on some TV news programs) is the one with the wider reach among the Deaf community (with occasional complaints about how some specific interpreters sign, however). In fact, interpreters’ representatives are very often asked by government officials to discuss policies regarding the Deaf community’s language. Although Deaf representatives are also invited to those meetings, their opinions have, in the best-case scenario, the same weight as that of interpreters, and quite often they are previously vetted by interpreters. This happens because the Deaf community is not sufficiently organized, and their leaders do not necessarily have the social capital needed to put forward a strong representation. How this affects LSP structure is yet to be studied. With respect to word order, our data points toward SOV, without necessarily precluding alternative analyses. Judy Shepard-Kegl (p.c.) suggested, for instance, that LSP could have a Ground-Figure order.

  3. 3.

    Sentence (1) was offered by the Deaf consultant after being asked (in LSP) to produce an example to illustrate the usage of the verb SEARCH.

  4. 4.

    The issue of simultaneity is not restricted to the externalization of syntactic constituents. It pervades sign language phonology as well. For instance, in (2) the sign MY has different phonological features simultaneously appearing: the handshape (all fingers selected) and the location and movement (directed toward the signer’s chest)—if the same handshape were directed toward the addressee, it would mean YOUR. For a recent discussion about the phonological complexities involved in simultaneous signs, see Sandler (2017).

  5. 5.

    This means we can understand the upper layer as a secondary predicate, something like (5). Or maybe it is a way to introduce a conventional implicature (in the sense of Potts (2005)), as suggested by Andrés Saab (p.c).

  6. 6.

    It is well known that traditional functional notions do not properly capture the complexities involved in the construction of the clause, and many researchers consider them an epiphenomenon (see McCloskey (1997) for a thorough discussion). This has not prevented them from using these expressions (subject, object, etc.) in an informal way, a practice that I follow here.

  7. 7.

    Madrid (2018), following Zwitserlood (2003, 2008, 2012), divides body part classifiers into two groups, assigning them either to handling classifiers or to whole entity classifiers. We are keeping body part classifiers together as a group.

  8. 8.

    An interesting issue is the handshape of the non-dominant hand. It has a pointing finger (but not a classifier). In this case, it is not pointing to the bottle; actually, it is not pointing to anything. I hypothesize that it expresses the stage-level nature of the predicate (pumping); if this is correct, the non-dominant hand is exteriorizing a different proposition, and the pointing finger would be a copula-type expression—see Rodríguez-Mondoñedo and Arnaiz (2022) for the suggestion that LSP may have, or it is developing, a copula from the pronominal form, in line with similar typological evolutions in several languages.

  9. 9.

    Notice that I am not counting the head as a classifier in this case; rather, it is part of another complex system of role shifting, constructed action, and meaningful use of the signing space. We will not discuss this issue here (see Perniss (2012), Lillo-Martin (2012), and references therein).

  10. 10.

    Thus, this is not so different from oral language classifiers, although see below.

  11. 11.

    We will not discuss other types of classifiers—see Supalla (1986), Emmorey (2003), Zwitserlood (2003, 2008, 2012), Sandler and Lillo-Martin (2006), and Madrid (2018), i.a., for further types and careful discussion.

  12. 12.

    Notice that in (15) we are using IX to represent a pointing sign; in this case, IX1 will be the signer pointing to herself to say “I.”

  13. 13.

    Remember we are ignoring null heads, for instance, the T head. There is no evidence that LSP has a morphological expression of Tense, which of course does not preclude a null T. To avoid any commitment, I have opted for labelless trees.

  14. 14.

    Notice that the picture in (22) is a 2D rendition of a 3D handshape and movement. Furthermore, the handshape can be expressed in terms of its phonological features (selected fingers, closure, etc.; see Brentari (2019) for a recent overview of sign language phonology). For LSP, see Raico (in preparation). With respect to the classifier, here we are only dealing with the valuation of its features, not its interpretation status; see Pesetsky and Torrego (2007) for the claim that interpretability and valuation are different aspects of the features.

  15. 15.

    The caveat from fn. 14 also applies here.

  16. 16.

    If we were to implement (30) in terms of Distributed Morphology, we would say that LEG just has an index, and that Agree makes possible the sharing of its index with the classifier. Later, that index will be interpreted as “with legs.”

  17. 17.

    Kimmelman (2022) shows cases where the relation between event structure and classifier type in at least some sign languages is not so straightforward. More research is needed, of course, but the point here is that argument structure does not necessarily predict event structure.

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Rodríguez-Mondoñedo, M. (2023). Argument Structure in Peruvian Sign Language. In: Rodrigues, C., Saab, A. (eds) Formal Approaches to Languages of South America. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-22344-0_4

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