Sign spaces: a note on terminology

At this stage, it is important to note that different terms are being used in the literature dedicated to the analysis of the linguistic use of space and the signer’s perspectives in sign language discourse. Some of the common terms used in the literature are listed in Table 3.7. Note that from a narrative perspective the notions on the left (first column) correspond with a “character” perspective, while the notions on the right (second column) correspond with the “observer” perspective. Note also that various terms (cf. (58)) are used to refer to the phenomenon of shifting perspective and its use in narrative discourse (Herrmann & Steinbach 2007: 159, Morgan 1999).

(58) Role shift, shifted reference, referential shift, role playing, role taking, constructed action, constructed dialogue, body shift.

The wealth of terms used in the literature reflects the diversity of perspectives adopted in the investigation of this phenomenon. Following Lillo-Martin (1995: 156), who draws on earlier work of Padden (1986, 1990), we will use the notions of shifting reference or referential shift as the notion role shift does not capture the grammatical processes involved. The notion of role shifting implies that the signer takes over the role of another character which amounts to the conception of the construction as some kind of role-playing rather than as a part of grammar. Through this terminological choice we distinguish the linguistic phenomenon from the functions it may serve in sign language discourse, as for example, the reporting of words in quotation environments (often referred to as constructed dialogue), or the reporting of actions from another person’s perspective in narratives (often referred to as constructed action).

Table 3.7: Terminology used to designate the different perspectives signers may adopt (based on Perniss 2007: 1317)




i diagrammatic spatial format

Emmorey & Falgier 1998


i depictive space

Liddell 2003


i global viewpoint

Dudis 2004


i fixed referential framework

Bellugi & Klima 1991, Morgan 1999


i narrator perspective

Slobin et al. 2003

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