DGS competence at the onset of the study


Word order. Muhammed adheres to the target sentence structure as of the onset of the study. In his file 1 narrative there are no utterances in which elements would be arranged in a target-deviant order (e.g. SVO). Although this file contains no SOV sequences, in which all elements would be expressed overtly, constructions, in which adverbials appear in preverbal position (cf. (100b) and (101e)), provide evidence of target-like sentence-final verb placement.

Table 3.15: Muhammed’s DGS profile.



[file 3]

Simultaneous constructions

[file 3]

Fixed/shifted referential frameworks


Expression of spatial relations

[file 1]

Reference forms / functions

[file 1]

Co-reference (referential establishment / maintenance)


Referential shift (POV)

[file 1]

5< >

nm: cl:body: with the body bent down, frightening

a. 5peck3

‘(It = the owl) pecks at (him = the boy).’

3< >

nm: cl:BODY: looking up, confused


‘(He) shoos (it) away.’


[file 3]

[- dom] [cL:FORM(round object)D]D who honeya [+ dom] [cL:FORM(round object)D]D know ‘Who knows the honey object (beehive)?

[file 1]

[Single wh-words only]



[file 1]

[- dom] [cl:form (opening)........]

if [+ dom] frog1 [detexist]1, inside ‘If the frog is there, inside the hole...’


Word order

[file 3]

[detart]1 boy1 name before p-ee-w-ee boy name ‘The boy’s name in the past was Peewee.’

pam -agreement

[file 3]

then FIRST boy cross PAM2 DoG2 ‘Then firstly the boy is cross with the dog.’




[file 1]

3< >

[- dom] [cl:form (opening)...........]G

tree [+ dom] lookg search

‘(He = the boy) looks into a hole in the tree. (He) searches in it.’



[file 1]

then see1 : [detexist]1 frog1 ‘Then (he) sees there is a frog.’



[file 1]


[PRoNpers]3 WAVE8

‘(He = the boy) waves to (them = the frogs).’


[file 1]


‘Then the boy falls. (He) dives deep into the water.’


[file 1]

again outside search ‘He searches again outside.’



[file 1]

- see IP headedness -

Because DGS is a discourse-oriented and a pro-drop language, the low incidence of overt SOV patterns comes as no surprise. Null elements (subject drop as in example (100b) or object drop in (101c,d,e)) are licensed as the referents are identified unambiguously in their respective contexts, providing evidence for Muhammed’s command of the target constraints.

Complex syntax: subordination and interrogation. Muhammed produces several complex sentential constructions in his file 1 narrative. Example (101a) above illustrates Muhammed’s command of the target word order in subordinated constituent clauses selected by the verb look. Other complex constructions in this file involve psychological verbs (such as (102) with the verb think) or modal verbs (such as (103) with the verb want). There is one instance of a conditional clause introduced with the conjunction if (compare example (104)), but the meaning of this sequence is not completely clear.

In file 1, Muhammed produces only one interrogative clause (cf. (101b) above) which consists of a single wh-word expressed after the narration of the boy’s realisation of the frog’s escape. Notice that the use of a wh-word only to express the protagonist’s enquiry about the frog’s location (in the sense of “where is the frog?”) is target-like: DGS knows no copula and the subject can be dropped, particularly in a context where it has been mentioned overtly before. Nevertheless we must concede that (101b) does not represent sufficient evidence for the purpose of establishing whether the target mechanisms for question formation are in place.

Complex syntax: referential shifts. Turning to complex constructions with referential shifts, the analysis reveals that Muhammed uses POVs in two main contexts, (a) where they are subcategorised by the verb in the matrix clause, and (b) where he provides detailed descriptions of the signers activities. The former case is given in examples with the verb regard and in constructions with reported dialogue (compare example (110) below, in which the boy calls the frog, asking him to come back). Furthermore, the analysis reveals that Muhammed has a command of the grammatical processes involved in complex constructions with POVs, including, (a) the signalling of changes in the perspective adopted, (b) the marking of shifted reference, and (c) the shifting of the referential framework (reassignment of referential loci). Example (101) above, in which the signer adopts the perspective of the boy, who realises that the frog is gone and asks himself about the frog’s whereabouts, documents the use of non-manual means to signal the shift to an SRF: the adoption of the boy’s perspective is marked through a change in body orientation (to the right), eye gaze direction (to the right bottom) and facial expression (surprise).

Target-like agreement marking is illustrated in example (105), in which the signer adopts the perspective of the boy: body part classifiers agree with subject (the boy puts on his boots) and the entity classifier correctly agrees with the objects (the boots) which are, however, not referred to overtly before. Interestingly, eye gaze direction changes several times during this sequence, whereby not all of these changes are linguistically motivated: apart from eye gaze to the respective loci of the right and the left boot (marking object agreement) Muhammed also directs eye gaze to his left, toward the location of the pictures of the story book.

Example (106) illustrates the skilful alternation of SRFs and FRFs. Muhammed uses non-manual means (facial expression, body orientation) to mark the perspective of the boy in (106b), in which he describes the surprise of the boy when confronted with the owl (the narrator does not explain that the owl suddenly appears out of the tree hole the boy was looking into before, but rather produces the sign come with an initial locus to his right). Several POVs follow each other in (107). Examples (107a-c) show how referential shift is used to describe the frightening behaviour of the owl, whereas in (107d) a shifted referential framework is used to recount that the boy tries to shoo away the owl. The change in perspective is marked clearly through non-manual means, that is, through a change in body orientation (body lean forward is used to mark the POV involving the owl as a protagonist, and a return to an upright body position, slightly to the left, to mark the POV involving the boy as a protagonist), and through a change in eye gaze direction (to the bottom and to the top respectively). The agreement verbs used correctly agree with the arguments they encode.

  • [1] X = Partial mastery in file 3 (occasional omission of background information in the expressionof figure-ground relations).
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