Perspectives on Classifier Constructions in Sign Language

By Karen Emmorey | Go to book overview

6
'Classificatory' Constructions
in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language: Grammaticalization and Lexicalization Processes
Ulrike Zeshan
La Trobe University, Melbourne

Indo-Pakistani Sign Language (IPSL) is an indigenous sign language used in deaf communities in urban centres of the Indian subcontinent. So far there is no evidence that IPSL might be genetically related to any European or North American sign language, and its grammatical structure is significantly different in many respects from the better documented Western sign languages. IPSL is used, with some lexical variation but a uniform grammar, in southern and central Pakistan and in north western India. It is likely that regional varieties of IPSL are also used in other parts of the Indian subcontinent, with greater lexical variation in some parts than in others, but the exact geographic extent of IPSL and the nature of regional variation have yet to be determined. The data presented here are based on the IPSL variety as used in Karachi and New Delhi. The extensive corpus of data includes texts of various registers: texts based on picture stories, personal narratives, a theatre performance, a signed version of a short story, a formal address to a deaf club, and lectures from a sign language television program (for details on the data, see Zeshan 2000a, pp. 8–12; 2000b, p. 27f). However, grammaticality judgments for constructions not occurring in the data have not been elicited. 1

This chapter is divided into two parts. In the first part, I describe several constructions in IPSL whose equivalents in other sign languages have been associated with the term 'classification'. Particular attention is given to the use of these constructions in natural discourse. Examining their function in discourse provides important clues as to whether the term 'classification' is appropriate or partially appropriate, or whether the constructions are of a different nature. 2 I argue that geometrical shape descriptions in IPSL are best conceived of as not involving classification in the linguistic sense of the term. Constructions describing the movement and location of entities can rightfully be called classificatory, whereas the subsystem describing the handling of ob

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