Indo-Pakistani Sign Language Grammar: A Typological Outline

By Zeshan, Ulrike | Sign Language Studies, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Indo-Pakistani Sign Language Grammar: A Typological Outline


Zeshan, Ulrike, Sign Language Studies


INDO-PAKISTANI Sign Language (IPSL) is the sign language used by deaf communities in urban centers in parts of the Indian subcontinent. The language community is large, estimated at several hundred thousand signers, if not more (Vasishta, Woodward, and Wilson 1978). IPSL is not known to be related to other sign languages of either Asia or Europe. Its exact geographic extension is not known at present. Previous research (Zeshan 2000b; Woodward 1993) suggests that IPSL may be in use throughout India, Pakistan, and Nepal with varying degrees of dialectal variation, but this has not yet been investigated in detail, nor has its possible use in other countries of the Indian subcontinent (e.g., Sri Lanka, Bangladesh). This article is based on the variety used in southern and central Pakistan and northwestern India.

I. Grammatical Profile

IPSL is a visual-gestural language that uses the hands and arms, facial expressions, eye gaze, and head/body posture to encode linguistic information. A manual sign has various formational components or parameters that are realized both simultaneously and sequentially and constitute the sign. These are handshape, place of articulation, movement (path movement and internal movement), orientation, and nonmanual features. Manual signs can be simultaneously combined with linguistically meaningful facial expressions, eye gaze, and head/ body posture. Simultaneity is extremely important on both the lexical and the morphological level.

IPSL has both isolating traits and a fair number of derivational processes. It has no affixes in the sense of a sequence of morphemes because all of morphology is realized as simultaneous modifications of one or several of the formational parameters. Morphology is almost entirely derivational, with a possible exception of directional signs (see section 2.1.3). The derivational morphological processes are characterized by optionality and a high degree of idiosyncratic variation. Because of the simultaneous nature of the processes, the articulatory form of signs may block the application of morphological rules.

IPSL has three open lexical classes that can be distinguished on the basis of their behavior in space (i.e., not modifiable in space, changing place of articulation, and directional movement between two points in space). The first two classes are multifunctional items and do not correlate in any way with syntactic functions or semantic characteristics. The third class (directional signs) has mostly verbal properties. Closed word classes include functional particles, classificatory stems, nonmanual signs, discourse particles, and indexical signs. IPSL has no modals, articles, adpositions, or conjunctions.

Sentences are always predicate final, and all of the signs from the open lexical classes can function as predicates. Ellipsis is extensive, and one-word sentences are common. There is a strong preference for sentences with only one lexical argument. Constituent order does not play any role in the marking of grammatical relations. These are coded exclusively by spatial mechanisms (e.g., directional signs) or inferred from the context. Temporal expressions usually come first in the sentence, and if there is a functional particle, it always follows the predicate (e.g., YESTERDAY FATHER DIE COMPLETIVE "(My) father died yesterday"). Functional particles are operators with scope over the whole clause and assign the clause to a certain clause type (interrogative, negative, imperative, completive, or existential). Modification within a referential expression is coded as simple apposition (e.g., I FATHER "my father"). If there is an index (pointing sign used for localization), it usually comes last (e.g., DEAF TEACHER INDEX "the deaf teacher").

Derivational morphology includes various optional markings for plurality in both arguments and predicates (e.g., dual, distributive, iterative), various Aktionsart (kind of action) derivations (e. …

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