Perspectives on Classifier Constructions in Sign Language

By Karen Emmorey | Go to book overview

15
How Composite Is a Fall?
Adults' and Children's
Descriptions of Different
Types of Falls in Danish
Sign Language
Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen
University of Copenhagen

ALTERNATIVE ANALYSES OF CLASSIFIER CONSTRUCTIONS

From about 1980, the sign linguistics literature was dominated by analyses of sign languages in traditional linguistic morphological terms. In particular, treatments of verb agreement, verb aspect, and the so-called classifier 1 constructions in many sign languages made sign languages appear morphologically rich, and Klima and Bellugi (1979) characterized ASL as an inflecting language comparable to Latin. Up through the 1990s analyses of sign languages in traditional morphological terms came under increasing scrutiny. In contrast to Klima and Bellugi's characterization of ASL as an inflecting language, Bergman and Dahl (1994) claimed that Swedish Sign Language is “basically an inflection-less language” (p. 418), but use traditional linguistic terminology for sign modifications when they describe Swedish Sign Language as having “a very well-developed ideophonic morphology” (p. 418). The strongest attack against morphological analyses of sign modifications is Liddell's (1990, 1995, 2000) gestural analysis of the deictic elements of signs (the direction of pointing and what is traditionally called agreement). Liddell and Metzger (1998) not only described spatial modifications of signs as gestural and thus nonlinguistic, but also characterized many manual “gestures” as such (i.e., as part of a gestural code in contrast to linguistic signs or words of the sign lexicon; see also Emmorey, 1999). In their analysis, a signed message is provided by a combination of gram-

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