Shifting reference: pragmatic aspects

Choice and change of referential frameworks follow both linguistic and pragmatic (information oriented) criteria (cf. Perniss 2007). Signers might use SRFs to provide additional information, for example, about the manner of an activity described first through the use of FRFs (cf. Tang 2003: 155 for Hong Kong Sign Language, HKSL). Morgan (2006: 330) remarks on rapid changes of sign spaces in narrative discourse, pointing out that “[d]uring a signed narrative these signed spaces are continually changing and being reused for reference to characters, to describe the physical layout of a scene and for expressing the passage of an episode and plot time.” Further, prototypical and non-prototypical alignments of frames of reference and choice linguistic means have been found to occur in sign language discourse.

Prototypical alignment of linguistic means and referential framework.

Choice of referential framework prototypically involves choice of specific linguistic means. For example, Perniss (2007: 1316) remarks that there is an alignment in the choice of classifier type and referential framework, as classifiers representing the handling of objects (i.e. transitive event types) occur within a life-sized character perspective event space, while classifiers representing the location and motion of objects (i.e. intransitive event types) occur within a model-sized observer perspective event space.

Non-prototypical alignment of linguistic means and referential framework. In longer discourse stretches, signers have been found to use mixed perspectives or, in Perniss’ terms, non-prototypical alignments of classifier types and narrative perspectives (Perniss 2007: 1320). According to Perniss (2007: 1321), the most prevalent mixed type in DGS narratives involves the use of entity classifiers in a character perspective. Notice that mixing frames of reference involves the simultaneous use of the sign space in front of the signer (in a narrative, the narrator’s perspective) and the sign space including the signer (in a narrative, the character’s perspective) (cf. (68)) (see Perniss 2007: 1320 for a detailed discussion).

From a more general perspective it is important to note that the choice of linguistic devices in sign language discourse is not only determined by grammatical and pragmatic criteria, but might be also affected by general cognitive abilities such as working memory and information processing mechanisms. The establishment and maintenance of reference over long discourse stretches constitutes a complex phenomenon that imposes an additional processing load, which makes the continual change of perspectives in narrative discourse particularly remarkable (Morgan 2006: 330).

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