Super monsters I Attitude and Action Role Shift in sign language

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Philippe Schlenker


In sign language ‘Role Shift’, the signer can adopt another person’s perspective to report a propositional attitude (‘Attitude Role Shift’) or an action (‘Action Role Shift’, often called ‘Constructed Action’); this is overtly marked by various means, such as a rotation of the signer’s body and/or eyegaze shift. This operation can be analyzed as an overt instantiation of the ‘monstrous’ mechanism of ‘context shift’ postulated for attitude reports in some spoken languages (Schlenker 2003, Anand & Nevins 2004, Anand 2006, Quer 2005). For Attitude Role Shift, we argue that this analysis brings new light to the typology of context-shifting operations: while some sign languages make it possible to ‘mix perspectives’ under Role Shift (Quer 2005), we argue that ASL and LSF obey the constraint that indexicals should ‘shift together’ (Anand 2006). Still, in ASL and LSF, data from Attitude Role Shift alone cannot fully exclude an alternative analysis based on quotation without context shift. By contrast, Action Role Shift, which has no established counterpart in spoken language, is not amenable to a quotational analysis because it is used to describe actions that don’t involve any speech- or thought-acts; in that respect, Role Shift is a ‘super monster’ that can shift the context outside of attitude reports. We develop a context-shifting analysis that applies both to Attitude and to Action Role Shift. (Important shortcomings of this analysis are discussed in Part II, which extends the theory with an ‘iconic component’ that addresses them.)


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