Language, Cognition, and the Brain: Insights from Sign Language Research

By Karen Emmorey | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Confluence of Language
and Space

Because signed languages are perceived visually and are articulated by movements of the hands in space, signers have a rich spatial medium at their disposal to express both spatial and nonspatial information. Signers can schematize signing space to represent physical space or to represent abstract conceptual structure. For sign languages, spatial language—the linguistic devices used to talk about space—primarily involves the use of classifier constructions, rather than prepositions or locative affixes. These constructions appear to be universal to sign languages (see Appendix B for the pattern of emergence of classifier handshapes in Nicaraguan Sign Language), and they exhibit some properties that may turn out to be typologically unique and arise from the visual-spatial modality. In this chapter, we first review and discuss these structures for ASL and then examine how ASL signers structure signing space to express spatial-locative information. We also explore how signing space functions to convey abstract information about time and to depict other abstract concepts and mental models.1


CLASSIFIER CONSTRUCTIONS

Classifier constructions are complex predicates that express motion (e.g., “The car meandered up a hill”), position (e.g., “The bicycle is next to the

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1
Portions of this chapter appeared in Emmorey and Falgier (1999b) and Emmorey (2001).

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