Referential shift

One crucial characteristic of DGS and other sign languages is that the referent associated with the locus of the signer can be shifted, that is, it can be associated with a referent other than the signer. This possibility implies that the rest of the referential framework is shifted in relation to this locus (Morgan & Woll 2003: 303). The notions of referential framework or frame of reference are used to designate a set of referential loci used in a particular discourse situation (cf. Lillo-Martin & Klima 1990: 193; Bellugi et al 1990: 18). Two types of referential frameworks are distinguished in the literature, namely, (a) the fixed referential framework (FRF) and (b) the shifted referential framework (SRF) (Morgan & Woll 2003: 303; Morgan 2006).

Fixed referential framework. In the FRF (cf. (57a)), the sign space in front of the signer serves to

  • - pick up referential loci previously established;
  • - mark subject and object agreement through the movement between the relevant referential loci;
  • - point to referential loci for pronominal reference;
  • - position and move classifiers.

Shifted referential framework. In the SRF (cf. (57b)) the sign space incorporates the signer’s own body. SRF is used to

  • - encode morphosyntactic information through location on the signer’s own body and locations related to the orientation of the signer’s body;
  • - indicate agreement with subject and object through the movement away or toward the signer’s body.

Referential shift, as will become apparent in the following sections, is a grammatically and lexically constrained phenomenon that can serve various pragmatic functions. It is thus a phenomenon that involves the syntax-discourse interface.

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