Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Body Partitioning in ASL Metaphorical Blends

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Body Partitioning in ASL Metaphorical Blends

Article excerpt

BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT PARTITIONING and metaphor directly, let us briefly consider the role of conceptual integration, or blending, in ASL. Blending is extremely common in everyday discourse in ASL and perhaps most, if not all, signed languages. All of the data discussed here are from ASL.

Grounded Blends as Narrative Enrichment

Consider a narrative in which a signer talks about a gift being offered and then refused with disdain by the guest of honor. There are points in the narrative at which the addressees understand the signer to be a visible representation of the story's gift giver.1 Figure 1 shows two video stills from a conventional way of demonstrating how a person, in this case a gift giver, presents an object to someone, in this case an honored guest at a party. Note the signer's expression, the direction of attention, and his hand, which is positioned out from his right side.

These characteristics, as well as several other features of the signer's body, are understood by addressees to be features of the gift giver character in the narrative, not of the actual signer. The card being offered, as well as the honored guest who is about to receive it, are not represented by any visible part of the signer but are still understood to be "present" conceptually.

The special conceptual status of these items is that of blended elements. Fauconnier and Turner's theory of conceptual blending (1996, 1998) has been applied to ASL discourse in various works by Liddell (1995, 1998, 2000). Using ASL examples, we briefly review some of the structural features of blending that are relevant in this article.

The blends of interest here have two conceptual input spaces. They draw from a narrative input space, which is established as the signer begins telling the narrative and contains elements frequently (though not always) introduced by nominals such as CARD ("[birthday] card"). Other relevant elements in this example are gift giver and honored guest as well as the particular time and setting of the narrative. Real space is the second input to these blends. Those that incorporate real space are called "grounded blends" (Liddell 1998).

Real space is the mental space that is the current conceptualization of the immediate environment based on sensory input. For an addressee, this conceptualization includes the signer as well as the surrounding space (and any objects or entities in it) where the conversation is taking place. These are elements of the real-space input space.

In table 1, we see that the narrative-space element "gift giver" is mapped onto the real-space signer, resulting in a distinct conceptual element: (signer as) gift giver.2 Because the signer is visually accessible, the blended |gift giver| is visible. Other blended elements, such as the |card| and the |honored guest|, are not visible because their input element from real space is only an area of empty physical space. Nevertheless, they are conceptually present just as the |gift giver| is. This is quite a vivid blend: Not only does it evoke several different conceptual entities and treat them as "present," but it is also more than just a demonstration of one person offering a card to another person. It is also meant to be "virtual": The time and setting of the narrative are also mapped onto the time and setting within real space, resulting in a "here and now" feel in the grounded blend.

Nonnarrative Use of Grounded Blends

However, these blends need not be used only in storytelling contexts where the narrator might wish to paint such a complex, dramatic scene. Signers have the ability to adjust the level of complexity or specificity of blends for use in several types of discourse. As an example of a nonnarrative use of a grounded blend, in particular a depicting verb, consider the sentence in example 1.

In ASL, this meaning is not conventionally produced using the verb "understand." Rather, example 1 illustrates the conventional ASL structure for expressing a prediction that the addresee will understand something. …

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