Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Numeral Incorporation in Japanese Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Numeral Incorporation in Japanese Sign Language

Article excerpt


This article explores the morphological process of numeral incorporation in Japanese Sign Language. Numeral incorporation is defined and the available research on numeral incorporation in signed language is discussed. The numeral signs in Japanese Sign Language are then introduced and followed by an explanation of the numeral morphemes which are bound to root morphemes. Fourteen different paradigms are presented and, from these paradigms, two rules for numeral incorporate in Japanese Sign Language are proposed.

JAPANESE SIGN LANGUAGE (JSL) is a rich and complex visual-spatial language used by Deaf communities in Japan. Its lexicon, grammar, and syntax are distinct from spoken and written Japanese. Like other sign languages, JSL relies on the hands, body movements, and facial grammar to create meaning and to express intricate thoughts and ideas.

Numeral incorporation, a feature seen in JSL and other sign languages, is the inclusion of a numeral marker into a single sign, thus changing part of the meaning - specifically, the numeric amount - of the sign. Although many sign languages make use of this process, the details vary. This article focuses on numeral incorporation in Japanese Sign Language and identifies patterns - and deviations from them - evident in JSL.

Numeral Incorporation

As a quick review for the reader, morphology is the study of the smallest meaningful units of a language. These simple, single-meaning units, called "morphemes," are joined with other units to create complex words or signs, thus creating the building blocks of language. Linguists have identified two types of morphemes: free morphemes and bound morphemes (Bergmann, Hall, and Ross 2007). Free morphemes (e.g., "language," "book") can stand alone. They do not need to be combined with other morphemes for their meaning to be complete; however, other morphemes can be attached to them. For example, the bound morpheme "-s" can be added to "language" and "book" to produce the multimorphemic words "languages" and "books."The plural marker "-s" is considered a bound morpheme because they must always be attached to another morpheme. This brief review of bound and free morphemes will become pertinent when talking about numeral incorporation in sign languages.

As previously described, numeral incorporation is the inclusion of a numeral marker into a single sign (Liddell 1996). Not all signs accept numeral markers, and, in those that do, not all numerals are accepted. Numeral incorporation is a complex process and a relatively underresearched area of signed language linguistics.

In ASL, numeral incorporation is produced by changing the hand configuration of a sign to correspond with the intended numeral (Frishberg and Gough 1973). According to Frishberg and Gough, the numeral handshape is a separate morpheme that is seen throughout the entire production of the original sign. Thus, the two morphemes - the original sign and the numeral handshape - are fused, and the surface form appears to be a single sign. This analysis delves into a possible underlying formation of numeral incorporation.

Johnson and Massone (1994) describe the process of numeral incorporation as involving two morphemes: the classifying root and the numeral handshape. Unlike the classifying root, which remains constant, the numeral handshape can vary. These two morphemes are bound together to form a single sign.

Chinchor (1982) proposes a different theory of the underlying structure of numeral incorporation. She claims that, in ASL, numeral incorporation utilizes two complete signs. The first one, or the base sign, must contain the morpheme one}.1 An example of this in ASL would be hour, which accepts numeral incorporation. This sign can be interpreted as either "hour" (without any enumeration) or "one hour." In contrast to this, year, which does not permit numeral incorporation, can be interpreted only as "year," not as "one year." Chinchor argues that the bound morpheme one } is necessary in order for a sign to allow numeral incorporation. …

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