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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Bilingualism and Deafness: On Language Contact in the Bilingual Acquisition of Sign Language and Written Language
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Further development: increasing narrative complexity

In file 3, Maria also provides a detailed and sophisticated account of the frog story events. This narrative, like the one produced in the first recording, documents her remarkable competence of the target linguistic devices. Compared with file 1, more details are provided in the retelling of the individual narrative events and their connections, revealing not only a creative use of the linguistic devices available to her, but also a balanced use of top-down and bottom-up narrative organisation strategies. We shall briefly summarise both dimensions in the following.

Orchestration of linguistic devices for narrative purposes

Local events. In file 3, Maria retells several narrative events in a more detailed manner than it was the case in file 1. Consider, for example, the recount of the frog’s escape in example (195). In this sequence, we learn not only that the frog escapes, but are also informed about why he decides to do so (because he is bored, cf. (195b)) and how he does so, namely, by climbing up the container (cf. (195d)), climbing out of it (cf. (195e)), jumping then toward the left side (cf. (195f)) and eventually leaving into that direction (cf. (195g)). Fixed and shifted referential frameworks are used alternatively to provide a detailed description of the narrative episode.

At times, Maria uses mixed perspectives to achieve the most explicit description possible. The narrative passage in (196) is an illustrative example. We can see that she starts to recount the narrative episode within a fixed referential framework, shifting then the perspective through a POV with the dog as a subject. While this perspective is kept, Maria uses a complex classifier construction to recount in detail what happens next, as the dog sticks his head into the jar. Notice that the referent is introduced in (196d) (the dog’s head) so that the argument of the classifier construction is clear, while the location into which the dog puts his head (the jar), backgrounded first through an h2-classifier, is mentioned a posteriori in (196g). Note also that the classifier element used in the spatial verb form stick- into corresponds with the target classifier for a head. Through the simultaneous use of non-manual elements (e.g. facial expression, body orientation), expressing the activities from the perspective of the dog, and the use of classifier constructions to describe these from the perspective of the narrator, the signer provides a detailed account of a complex but key activity of one of the main story protagonists. Crucially, none of the other narratives collected in this study contains a similarly sophisticated report of this narrative episode.

Among other narrative episodes recount in a skilful way there is the boy’s falling on the deer’s head (cf. (197)). Notice that the spatial verb fall is directed toward a location in the centre of the sign space in (197a), to describe the boy’s falling forward, whereas it is directed to a location behind the back of the signer’s head in (197b), in which we learn that the boy has fallen on the back of the deer.

As in file 1, Maria produces several constructions with agreement verbs. These verbs correctly agree with the loci established previously. A remarkable sequence documenting Maria’s command of the linguistic use of sign space to convey complex meanings is provided in (198). Notice that in this sequence the signer adopts the perspective of the boy while recounting the activity of another protagonist (the dog). To indicate the reference of the agent of the activity Maria uses a pronoun that refers to the dog. Information on the dog’s location viz. the boy’s holding the dog in his arms is provided through the non-dominant hand. Note that the verb lick is correctly inflected to agree with the object (the boy’s cheek) in the context of the shifted referential framework, in which the signer uses his body as a classifier.

A note is due in this context on the only instance of pam in this narrative, used to mark the verb-complement relation in a construction with the plain verb like in (199). As we can see in (199), however, the word order of the sequence with pam is not target-like, as the object and the agreement marker appear after the verb like (as discussed in section 3.1.3.2 they appear preverbally in target DGS). By assumption, word order, in this case, is borrowed from LBG.

Event connections. Apart from detailed accounts of individual narrative episodes, Maria’s recount of the frog story also contains information on temporal and causal relations between events. We have seen previously that Maria provides information on the motives of some of the characters’ actions (in (195b), for example, the frog’s boredom). In other cases, relations between narrative events are made explicit by using connecting devices, such as the temporal adverbial then or the coordinating conjunction but. In (200) we can see that the cause-effect relation between the dog’s activity and the beehive falling on the ground is marked through the adverbial then, a typical phenomenon observed also in spoken language recounts of the frog story. Complex sentential constructions represent another linguistic means used to express links between narrative events. These include coordinated constructions, such as the one provided in (201b) introduced by the conjunction but. Note that the example also documents the target-like preposition of the constituent clause (frog call).

As we can see in (202) referential shift is used to express emotions and thoughts of the protagonist. The sequence also documents that evaluations on narrative events are not only expressed from a narrator perspective, but are also made explicit via reported dialogue (in (202), we learn from the boy’s comment that the runaway frog is not among the frogs spotted first). In this case, too, agreement and possession are appropriately expressed in the shifted referential framework in which the signer adopts the perspective of the boy. The spatial directional verb in (203b) is modulated in a direction towards the signer, picking up the locus established for the small frog protagonist. The agreement verb in (203d) is correctly inflected to encode subject-object agreement (boy, frog).

Only on a few occasions, relations between events are not expressed in an unambiguous way. This is the case of (204), in which Maria recounts that the boy is surprised by a hamster while checking out a hole in the ground. Maria does not recount that the hamster comes out of this hole (neither does she assign this referent a locus), but focuses directly on the hamster’s biting of the boy’s nose, which takes the boy by surprise. Notice that the object of the hamster’s activity is marked in the context of a POV in (204a) signalled through a body lean backward and a change of eye gaze direction (from the left to the centre). Furthermore, the POV involves a reassignment of the locus established for the boy, which is probably an effect of Maria’s choice to sign the noun hamster with a body orientation to the left (note that (204a) is preceded by a sequence of POVs involving the boy as a subject, marked by a body orientation to the left, leaning forward).[1]

In a similar manner, the change of the thematic role associated with the boy (agent vs. patient) is not expressed lexically in (205). In this case, the shift between the boy’s and the owl’s perspective in (205b,c) and (205d) respectively, is marked through the NP referent owl, whereas the shift to the boy’s perspective between (205d) and (205e) is not marked explicitly (in fact, body orientation and eye gaze direction do not change, but facial expression does). Referential ambiguity in the hamster and the owl examples is explained in part by the choice of the boy as a thematic perspective with the effect that he is seldom referred to via lexical means. Where non-manual means are not used in a contrastive manner, the change of the thematic role associated with the boy is not easy to discern.

Referential establishment and maintenance. The frequency of reintroduction of referents via NP has increased in file 3, in particular, where the boy is reintroduced as a protagonist, although subject-drop is also used with the same frequency as NPs (recall that no instance of an NP as a means to reintroduce the boy was acknowledged for file 1). This distribution contrasts markedly with the use of NPs in reintroductory contexts involving the dog as a protagonist. The relative proportion of NPs chosen for reference in reintroduction contexts vis-a-vis other reference forms (cf. Table 3.28 and Figure 3.6) amounts to 65.2%. Out of a total of 25.8% of reference forms serving this function NPs make up 16.9%.

It must be mentioned in this context that Maria’s distribution of loci in this narrative is less fixed than in file 1. After the initial episodes involving the boy and the dog together as protagonists, the two characters are associated with a locus to the right and the left side respectively in various narrative passages. However, there are several reassignments of loci throughout the narration. Various factors seem to play a part in the more flexible use of referential loci. For one, as Maria goes on to describe individual events in more detail, often with indications on related activities of other characters, reference needs to be reassigned more frequently than in a narrative description consisting of a succession of events (without indications on their connections). We mentioned before that Maria uses full NPs to refer to the boy more frequently than she did in file 1, but continues to use subject drop in many occasions which leads to the type of ambiguity described previously. Turning to other linguistic means used to establish and maintain reference in this narrative, we note that Maria does not use detart to establish referents in this narrative (there is only one exception). detexist, by contrast, is frequently used (compare examples (203), discussed previously, and (208)-(209)).

Table 3.28: Reference forms and functions in Maria’s file 3.*

Reference form

% of all forms

Function served

Introduction

Reintroduction

Maintenance

NP

24.7

7.9

(100)

16.9

(65.2)

0

(0)

DETMT/pRCINpFRs

2.2

0

(0)

1.1

(4.3)

1.1

(1.7)

Subject drop

73.0

0

(0)

7.9

(30.4)

65.2

(98.3)

All forms

7.9

25.8

66.3

* Expressed as a percentage of the total number of reference forms (proportions of forms used for respective function in brackets). Absolute numbers are provided in the Appendix Table C-6.

Proportion of reference forms and functions in Maria’s file 3

Figure 3.6: Proportion of reference forms and functions in Maria’s file 3.

At closer inspection, the analysis of Maria’s use of detexist to establish loci and her choice of loci to indicate reference maintenance (coindexation) reveals a sophisticated use of the linguistic space to mark agreement and create cohesion. In (210) detexist is used to establish the location of the jar, taken up in the next proposition, in which Maria reports that there is no frog in this location anymore. The loci associated with detexist in example (211) (see also (203) above) correspond with the loci for the object or the subject of the respective subsequent clauses containing agreement verbs.

Expression of spatial relations. Table 3.29 provides an overview of the linguistic forms used in the expression of spatial relations. As we can see, while reference to the background occurs overtly, either through NPs or h2-classifiers, reference to the figures involved remains unexpressed overtly. Because the relevant sequences occur in the context of narrative passages involving the same protagonist, reference is clear.

Table 3.29: Expression of figure-ground relations in Maria 3.

Ground

Figure

Reference forms

Context

Ground

[antecedent]

Figure

R.-Framework

Verb/DET

[activity]

jar

frog

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[climb out]

jar

frog

h2cl

drop

FRF

spatial

[jumps out]

jar

dog (head)

h2cl

drop

FRF

spatial

[stick into]

Table 3.29: continued

Ground

Figure

Reference forms

Context

Ground

[antecedent]

Figure

R.-Framework

Verb/DET

[activity]

jar

dog (head)

h2cl

drop

FRF

spatial

[sticks into]

boy (nose)

dog

CL:BODY

NP

SRF*

agreement

[lick]

tree

boy

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[climb up]

stone

boy

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[climb on]

deer

(antlers)

boy

NP

drop

FRF

spatial

[fall on]

log

boy

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[support]

*SRF expresses the boy’s perspective.

  • [1] Unfortunately, we cannot establish with certainty whether the meaning expressed would require the use of a serial verb construction in DGS as it has been documented for ASL or BSL (cf.section 3.1.4.6) because, to our knowledge, this type of construction remains unexplored for DGS.
 
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