Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Order in Argentine Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Order in Argentine Sign Language

Article excerpt

Word order is the way in which languages establish the relationship between a verb and its arguments. The world's spoken languages have been classified into three major word orders: SOV, SVO, and VSO. As other word orders have also been identified, linguists have found it necessary to investigate and define the relevance of semantic (animate/inanimate, agent/patient) and pragmatic (topic/comment) notions in order to determine their relevance to the ordering of elements.

Different sign orders were tested in all of the possible combinations of noun and verb phrases and then verified in different text formats in order to classify the possible sign orders and analyze the influence of pragmatic and semantic notions. Deaf people from all over Argentina participated as informants. The intuition of native signers was also taken into consideration. The analysis of the corpus was completed with participant observation within the Deaf community and in different Deaf associations throughout Argentina. The canonical sign order in Argentine Sign Language was found to be SOV for sentences with transitive verbs and SV with intransitive ones. Sentences with modal verbs exhibit a different sign order. Variations of the canonical sign order occur according to various linguistic constraints and pragmatic purposes.

WORD ORDER-the order of constituents in the sentence-is one way in which languages establish the relationship between a verb and its arguments. The spoken languages of the world have been classified into three, major word-order types: SVO, VSO, and SOV. Greenberg's work (1963) on language typology has been a stimulus to linguistic research on word order. However, since languages change and since the relative position of the elements in a sentence can be determined by syntactic relations, semantic characteristics, or discourse factors, languages have appeared to be sometimes inconsistent with the properties associated with the word-order typology based on the grammatical relation between subject and predicate. Therefore, as linguists have described other word orders, they have also had to investigate and define the relevance of semantic (animate/inanimate, agent/patient) and pragmatic notions (topic/ comment) to determine their relevance in the ordering of elements in a specific language.

Such evidence has led other researchers to put forward another typology based on the grammatical relations of subject-predicate and topic-comment. Following such criteria, Li and Thompson (1976) found four types of languages: (1) languages that are subject prominent (e.g., Indo-European languages), (2) languages that are topic prominent (e.g., Chinese), (3) languages that are both subject prominent and topic prominent (e.g., Japanese and Korean), and (4.) languages that are neither subject prominent nor topic prominent (e.g., Tagalog). However, as Li and Thompson (ibid.) observe, the tradition in linguistic studies is not to describe the basic structure of a sentence in terms of topic and comment but emphasizes subject as the universal grammatical relation.

One or more of these semantic and pragmatic factors may affect word order in some languages, or languages may not rely at all on these aspects for building sentences. Certain languages have a rigid word order; others have a variable word order; and still others combine both types of orders. Russian, for example, has variable word order, but the subject-verb-object (SVO) order is more basic than the others (Comrie 1981).

Languages may also have different word orders in different constructions. Furthermore, when the system of a language presents more morphological inflections, the word order tends to be more variable (Greenberg 19(13; Comrie 1981), as in Basque or German. There may also be a tradeoff between word order and rich morphological marking of argument structure. Lillo-Martin (1991) shows that when arguments are marked morphologically in ASL, the language presents null arguments and phonologically empty subjects and objects. …

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