International Review of Sign Linguistics - Vol. 1

By William H. Edmondson; Ronnie B. Wilbur | Go to book overview

4
One, Two, or More: The Expression of Number in Israeli Sign Language

Anat Stavans

Bar Ilan University

Research has shown that the morphology of sign languages is similar to that of spoken languages. However, there are morphological features specific to languages transmitted in the visual--spatial mode of communication.

Language universals play an important role in cross-linguistic research on language structure, acquisition, and use. One of the common aspects of great significance, from childhood to adulthood, is the concept of number. This concept has been widely investigated by psychologists, educators, and, more recently, linguists ( Gil, 1987). The concept of singular and plural is not restricted to knowing whether one has a lot or a little, more or less, one or many; rather, it affects whether one can say "I want many books" as opposed to *"I want many book" and still be understood. There are various ways to express number in natural languages. For example, in Japanese, the distinction between book and books is not made by plural marking ( Gil, 1987), and in Hebrew, there is a wider distinction between singular, plural, and dual marking ( Berman, 1985). There is limited knowledge on the means of expressing number in Israeli Sign Language (ISL), and an exploration of this issue is necessary if we are to expand our knowledge of ISL as a natural language.

Many scholars have claimed that certain characteristics are universal (i.e., common) to all natural languages, whereas other characteristics are language specific ( Slobin, 1985). Because ISL is a natural language, it can be expected to have the properties believed to be universal, however, it is also expected to differ from other languages in some of its features.

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