Menu
Home
Log in / Register
 
Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Bilingualism and Deafness: On Language Contact in the Bilingual Acquisition of Sign Language and Written Language
Source

Reference forms and functions

The preceding observations about the use of referential shift in sign language discourse also raise the more general question about choice of linguistic means in relation to the text or discourse type produced. As remarked by Morgan (1999: 35) the use of agreement verbs in fixed referential frameworks “may not be the most common reference strategy used in discourse”. The analysis of adult signers’ narrative productions in BSL reveals that signers construct “a direct report of actions” through a shifted referential framework, “rather than using pronominal and agreement forms between spatial locations” within a fixed referential framework (Morgan 1999: 46). Unfotunately, the question of whether this observation would hold of sign language discourse in general or whether it would rather pertain to specific discourse genres remains unanswered thus far. To date, the relevant sign language corpora (including DGS) that would provide information about choice of linguistic means and the functions they serve in specific discourse contexts are not available.

Reference forms and functions. In the course of their narration, narrators are confronted with the task of ensuring that reference to the protagonists is clear. For this purpose, signers, like speakers, have to choose among the reference forms available in their repertoires, according to their information status in a given discourse context. In other words, it is not sufficient to look at the sentential level to understand the choice of particular reference forms. Instead, as Karmiloff-Smith (1981), for example, remarks it is necessary to consider longer discourse stretches to explain “the dynamic interplay of various referential expressions, as subjects move from, say, the use of noun-pronoun reduplication, to full noun phrases, to pronouns and to zero anaphora, in their production of a span of connected utterances.”

In research on the choice of referential expressions in spoken language narratives reference forms are analysed with respect to the function they serve in marking anaphoric relationships in discourse (cf. Bamberg 1986). Commonly, the following referential functions are distinguished (cf. Morgan 2006: 318):

  • - introduction: first mention of a character in the story
  • - reintroduction: a character that went out of focus because of an intervening referent is reintroduced again
  • - maintenance: aontinued reference to a character that remains in discourse focus

As pointed out by Morgan (1999: 52), “[p]ragmatic judgments are made by signers as to how explicit or reduced reference forms are to be used in specific discourse contexts.” Morgan (2006: 320-1) distinguishes reference forms used in BSL narratives based on the criterion of explicitness as follows (pronouns were not considered in the study):

  • - noun phrase: requires little information to identify referent
  • - entity classifier: requires more previous information (it refers to class of

semantically similar objects, rather than a particular member of that group)

- role shift: Г east explicit in terms of identifying information, therefore it requires the most amount of previous information

As we will see later in this chapter (section 3.2.3.4), first insights into choice of reference forms in relation to the functions they fulfil in BSL narrative discourse were obtained by Morgan (2006) in a study on adult and child narrative productions. Thus far, similar data are missing for DGS. Nevertheless, in our analysis we have been guided by the information that can be gleaned from the available studies on DGS grammar including information about discourse constraints on the choice of reference forms (Happ & Vorkoper 2006; Papaspyrou et al. 2008). Table 3.8 provides an overview of the reference forms distinguished and the functions they might serve in narrative production. The distinction allows for the following generalisations about target-like vis-a-vis target-deviant form-function combinations:

  • (a) Subject-drop. Subject drop is an appropriate option in narrative contexts involving the same character (reference maintenance), irrespective of whether it occurs in FRFs or SRFs and of the verb type chosen. Where subjects are dropped in contexts in which protagonists are reintroduced, pro-drop must be licensed. Hence, for example, if the signer has established the loci for different characters previously in the sign space and correctly picks up the locus associated with the referent reintroduced via an agreement verb, subject drop is licensed. The same holds of constructions with referential shift. In addition, we might consider the use of spatial verbs, in which the classifier element agrees with a subject identified previously. Note though that reintroduction of protagonists might lead to referential ambiguity where the same classifier could refer to different characters. Finally, we must note that subject drop is ungrammatical where new referents are introduced.
  • (b) NP and detart. Full NPs serve the function of introducing new protagonists (if no other means are used to associate a locus with a new referent, detart is used in case this referent is co-referred to at a later point in the narrative). NPs can also be used for the reintroduction of referents. NPs might be used in contexts involving the same referent (reference maintenance), but this is a marked option.
  • (c) Pronouns. The use of pronouns for the reintroduction of referents is appropriate provided the pronouns pick up referential loci established previously.

Table 3.8: Reference forms and referential functions.

Reference form / function

Np

detart

pronpers

subject drop*

RS

spatial v

plain v

agr v

Introduction

?/

?/

error

error

error

error

error

Reintroduction

?/

?/

?/

?/

?/

error

?/

(+locus)

(+locus)

(+cl)

(thematic

(+locus)

perspective?)

Maintenance

^ ***

***

**

?/

?/

?/

?/

  • * Subject drop in this overview is further differentiated according to verb types used (v=verb).
  • ** Our evaluation differs from Papaspyrou et al. (2008) who claim that the use of pronouns in this context is ungrammatical.
  • *** The use of a full NP in this context represents a case of “overexplicitness” that might occur following narrative requirements.

Thematic perspective in narrative. In sign language discourse, much like in

spoken language discourse, narrators have been found to use a thematic subject

strategy. According to Karmiloff-Smith (1981: 127), narrators use pronouns or zero anaphora “as the default case for the thematic subject of a span of utterances” and “deviances therefrom will be marked clearly linguistically by the use of full noun phrases”. Hence, the organisation of discourse from the perspective of the thematic subject (commonly the main protagonist involved in a series of events) affects the choice of reference forms (Hickmann 2003). Particularly in reports of complex (simultaneous) events the use of the thematic subject strategy represents an effective means to recount parallel activities of different characters. With respect to BSL discourse, Morgan (1999: 52) observes that “[s]igners set up a thematic perspective when narrating, thus allowing reduced reference to be used in keeping this perspective in discourse focus. The secondary perspective is activated through overt reference forms. Thus, in the context of event packaging, two perspectives can be used on events without having to label both overtly.”

 
Source
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
 
Subjects
Accounting
Business & Finance
Communication
Computer Science
Economics
Education
Engineering
Environment
Geography
Health
History
Language & Literature
Law
Management
Marketing
Mathematics
Political science
Philosophy
Psychology
Religion
Sociology
Travel