Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Question-Answer Pairs in Sign Language of the Netherlands

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Question-Answer Pairs in Sign Language of the Netherlands

Article excerpt

SEVERAL SIGN LANGUAGES of the world utilize a construction that consists of a question followed by an answer, both of which are produced by the same signer. Example 1 comes from Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT):1

EXAMPLE 1.

_____br+bht

PT:1 SPORT WHAT? PING-PONG PT:1 NGT

"What kind of sport I do? I play ping-pong." (CNGT0094; S001)

Several questions can be asked with respect to this structure. The first is whether the question and the answer constitute a single sentence or two independent sentences. For American Sign Language (ASL), both options have been argued (Wilbur 1996 for the former and Hoza et al. 1997 for the latter). If example 1 constitutes a single sentence, we may ask whether it has the same structure as pseudoclefts (also known as wh-clefts), which are present in many spoken languages and are superficially very similar to structures such as "What I really like is ice cream." One argument is that such structures in ASL are wh-clefts (Wilbur 1996), whereas another rejects that analysis (Caponigro and Davidson 2011). The latter argument proposes instead that this construction is a single-sentence question-answer clause (ibid.). Various analyses of comparable structures have also been proposed for other sign languages (discussed later).

In this article we describe the syntactic properties of these structures in NGT and refer to them as "question-answer pairs" (QAPs). We want to find out whether QAPs in NGT constitute single sentences and whether they are comparable to wh-clefts in spoken languages- or whether an alternative analysis is needed. To answer these questions, we used data from the Corpus NGT (Crasborn, Zwitserlood, and Ros 2008).

This large corpus contains NGT data in the form of video recordings with conversations and stories produced by 94 Deaf signers. Previous studies of QAPs in ASL were based primarily on elicitation, which might also explain why different researchers arrived at different analyses. We reasoned that naturalistic corpus data are especially suitable for analyzing the variable behavior of QAPs in NGT.

Overview of Previous Research

As mentioned earlier, when analyzing QAPs in sign languages, two questions have to be answered: whether the question-and-answer components of a QAP constitute a single sentence and, if so, whether As mentioned earlier, when analyzing QAPs in sign languages, two questions have to be answered: whether the question-and-answer components of a QAP constitute a single sentence and, if so, whether

Are QAPs Single Sentences?

Although most researchers answer this question positively for ASL, Auslan, and LIS, historically QAPs in ASL were first analyzed as rhetorical questions followed by answers (Baker-Shenk 1983). Others have argued strongly against this analysis and suggested that QAPs should be analyzed as wh-clefts, which presupposes a single-sentence analysis (Wilbur 1996).

First, studies have shown that questions in QAPs and regular questions are different in nonmanual marking and word order (Wilbur 1994, 1996). Regular questions (importantly, also rhetorical ones) are marked with eyebrow furrowing; the wh-word can appear in different positions and can be doubled. Questions in QAPs are marked with raised eyebrows (ibid.); the wh-word typically appears in the clausefinal position and normally cannot be doubled. Therefore, the question elements of QAPs are not questions but embedded clauses (ibid.).

Further arguments in favor of analyzing QAPs as single sentences address prosody and embedding. Wilbur (1996, 218) claimed that, in sequences of a rhetorical question followed by an answer, long pauses and thinking behavior are possible; however, this is not the case in the QAPs that Wilbur analyzed as wh-clefts (ibid.). In addition, the whole QAP can be embedded in a matrix predicate, as in example 2, where the QAP is an argument of the matrix predicate SEE.

EXAMPLE 2.

_____br

KIM SEE STEAL TTY WHO, LEE. …

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