Detecting clauses and their dependencies in signed utterances: A syntactico-semantic approach
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/15826
Investigating the syntactic structure of utterances with multiple predicates in sign languages requires a clear understanding of how many finite and infinitival clauses they contain and which syntactic dependencies exist between them. Since the sign language literature currently lacks a standardized methodology for identifying clause boundaries, this paper discusses syntactico-semantic diagnostics of clausehood and clause size and analyzes their applicability to American Sign Language (ASL) and German Sign Language (DGS). First, I discuss tests that distinguish coordinated clauses from dependent clause structures; specifically negation, A’-movement, and subject pronoun copy. Limitations of wh- and topic fronting as clausehood diagnostics are identified and a modified subject pronoun copy test is proposed. Determining whether a given utterance contains coordinated or dependent clauses is only half the battle, however; we also want to know the approximate “size” of the constituent an embedded predicate projects. The present study takes a first pass at filling this gap by introducing rightward wh-movement and confirming center-embedding as diagnostics that can discriminate between finite and infinitival clauses in signed languages. Based on acceptability judgments from 13 native signers of DGS and ASL, I show that wh-subjects can move across infinitival control complements and the secondary predicates of resultative constructions, but they cannot cross a finite complement clause. The diagnostic thus provides empirical evidence for the existence of various types of embedded clauses in signed languages that differ in their functional structure.