Perspectives on Classifier Constructions in Sign Language

By Karen Emmorey | Go to book overview

scribed by the verb as a cat. In addition, the handshape producing ANIMAL-BE-AT blends with the cat being discussed to become the |cat| in the depiction ahead of the signer.

The verb signifies that an animal is located at a place. This information is encoded as part of its lexical semantics. The physical relationship between the cat and the fence, however, is shown by the physical placement of the two hands. The location of the hand producing ANIMAL-BE-AT depicts the location of the animal in the blended space. By placing the hand on top of the hand blended with the |fence|, the signer depicts the |cat| on the |fence|.

The result is quite unusual. The three signs in the grammatical construction above express grammatically determined meanings just like words in grammatical constructions in any language. In addition, the hands producing these signs also depict certain aspects of what is being described. In Fig. 9.13, one hand depicts a cat, the other depicts a part of a fence, and the physical relationship between the two hands depicts the physical relationship between the cat and the fence.


CONCLUSION

I am proposing that the classifier predicates analyzed in this paper are fixed lexical verbs. These verbs become full signs by placing and directing them in analogical, gradient ways. This will always include placing the hand at an analogical location, and will sometimes include directing the hand's orientation analogically. This description is meant to apply equally to a 'locative' verb such as DRIP-AT and a 'classifier predicate' such as VEHICLE-DRIVE-BY. I am suggesting that this should be the starting point for a morpholocial analysis.

These verbs vary in their analyzability. In general, meaningful handshapes can be identified. Once we get beyond handshapes, however, finding morphemic parts is not so straightforward—and goes beyond noting that a certain meaning is being expressed. Based on the data I have looked at, classifier predicates do not appear to be polysynthetic. It is probably too early to speak with any confidence about productivity within this system. Before talking about productivity it will first be necessary to identify the units that are supposed to contribute to that productivity. This identification will need to be based not only on meanings expressed, but identifiable parts of signs that express that meaning.


ENDNOTES
1
Much of the material in this chapter can be found in Liddell (in press, chap. 9). The arguments there focus on mental space blending and meaning construction.
2
What constitutes the class of vehicles is a language specific issue. In ASL, this handshape is used to represent the movement and placement of vehicles such as cars, bicycles, motorcycles, and trucks, but not airplanes, rockets, etc.
3
In the 1970s, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley used the term markers rather than classifiers. This terminology appears, for example, in Mandel (1977), DeMatteo (1977), and Friedman (1975, 1977); the terminology was not widely adopted by others.
4
Supalla (1978) describes verbs such as this one as being constructed from a "contact root."
5
McDonald (1982) and Schick (1990) propose alternate views of the structure of these signs. I do not consider these proposals in depth here because my major aim is to contrast two diametrically opposed views on the structure of classifier predicates. The proposals by McDonald and Schick are also based on the idea that classifier predicates are highly synthetic morpheme combinations.

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