LOT Winter School 2018

RM1 Visible variation: Sign languages in typological perspective

Roland Pfau


University of Amsterdam


Course info

Level: RM1

Course description:

In this course, we will take a typological perspective on selected aspects of the grammar and lexicon of sign languages. Two types of typological comparison will be central to the discussion. On the one hand, we will compare sign language structures to those previously described for spoken languages (inter-modal comparison); on the other hand, sign languages will also be compared to each other (intra-modal comparison). Grammatical domains that will be addressed include verb agreement, negation, and relative clauses; in addition, we will consider two semantic fields: color terms and numerals. Data will be drawn from sign languages of diverse geographical origin, including so-called village (or rural) sign languages.

The course does not assume a background in sign language linguistics. The structural properties relevant to the discussion will be introduced in the first meeting.

Day-to-day program

Monday: Background: Sign language types & structure

Tuesday: Use of space: agreement & classifiers

Wednesday: Negation

Thursday: Semantic fields: Color terms & numerals

Friday: (Relative clauses)

Discussion: Relation between sign language type and structure

Reading list

Background and preparatory readings:

Baker, A., B. van den Bogaerde, R. Pfau & T. Schermer (eds.). 2016. The linguistics of sign languages: An introduction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

(à an introductory textbook that draws on data from many different sign languages and covers the different areas of grammar as well as psycho- and sociolinguistic aspects)

Perniss, Pamela, Roland Pfau & Markus Steinbach. 2007. Can’t you see the difference? Sources of variation in sign language structure. In Perniss, P., R. Pfau & M. Steinbach (eds.), Visible variation: Comparative studies on sign language structure. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1–34.

(à provides a brief overview of the history of sign language linguistics and addresses some of the variation attested at different levels of grammar)

Course readings (obligatory):

Lecture 1:

Pfau, Roland. 2010. Handwaving & headshaking? On the linguistic structure of sign languages. In Martí i Castells, J. & J.M. Mestres i Serra (eds.), Les llengües de signes com a llengües minoritàries: perspectives lingüístiques, socials i polítiques. Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 59–84. [Note: I will make available a draft version which has images in better quality.]

Lecture 2:

Schuit, Joke. 2013. Typological aspects of Inuit Sign Language. PhD dissertation, University of Amsterdam. [Note: Chapter 4 – Predicates in IUR: verb agreement and classifiers, 99–138; available at: http://dare.uva.nl/record/463559].

Lecture 3:

Oomen, Marloes & Roland Pfau. 2017. Signing not (or not): A typological perspective on standard negation in Sign Language of the Netherlands. Linguistic Typology 21(1), 1–51. [Note: only Sections 1–7 (pages 1–38)].

Lecture 4:

Sagara, Keiko & Ulrike Zeshan. 2016. Semantic fields in sign languages – A comparative typological study. In Zeshan, U. & K. Sagara (eds.), Semantic fields in sign languages. Colour, kinship and quantification. Berlin & Nijmegen: De Gruyter Mouton & Ishara Press, 3–37.

Lecture 5:

Meir, Irit, A. Israel, Wendy Sandler, Carol Padden & Mark Aronoff. 2012. The influence of community size on language structure: Evidence from two young sign languages. Linguistic Variation 12(2), 247–291.

Further readings (optional):

Pfau, Roland. 2012. Manual communication systems: evolution and variation. In Pfau, R., M. Steinbach & B. Woll (eds.), Sign language. An international handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 513–551.

(à addresses the origin/evolution of sign languages, sign language types & typology, as well as some special types of sign languages, e.g. tactile SLs and monastic SLs)

Vos, Connie de & Roland Pfau. 2015. Sign language typology: The contribution of rural sign languages. Annual Review of Linguistics 1, 265–288.

(à presents a special type of sign languages, viz. rural/village sign languages, and discusses how they add to our understanding of the range of variation across sign languages)