“More is up” for domain restriction in ASL

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Kathryn Davidson
Deanna Gagne

Abstract

This paper investigates a form-meaning mapping in American Sign Language (ASL) whereby pronouns, verbs, and quantifiers can be produced progressively higher in signing space to signal a widening of their contextually supplied domains. We show that this is not a gesture-like expression of surprise, uncertainty, or quantity, and is also not equivalent to well-studied domain-widened quantifiers in spoken language, but rather involves reference via plural pronouns in ASL. When appearing with verbs these pronouns are incorporated as arguments and when appearing with quantifiers as a partitive-like domain restriction. In addition, we show that the use of continuous space along the height dimension in ASL allows for gradient interpretations of domain widening and narrowing. We contrast the grammatical functions of this use of height in sign languages with superficially similar gesture and prosody accompanying spoken language.

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Author Biographies

Kathryn Davidson, Harvard University

Associate Professor of Linguistics

Deanna Gagne, Gallaudet University

Assistant Professor of Linguistics