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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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Syntax-discourse interface

We have seen previously that Fuad uses several linguistic devices to establish and maintain reference. Nevertheless, Fuad’s file 1 is also characterised by referential ambiguities which, as we will see next, are related to gaps in the mastery of the syntax-discourse interface.

Referential ambiguities. At closer inspection, the analysis reveals that reference remains unclear or even ambiguous in some instances either because not all referents involved in a sequence of events are explicitly mentioned (e.g. (221) below) or because simultaneously occurring events are narrated without a clear marking of referential shifts as it occurs in example (220). In the latter example Fuad describes the scene where the deer, with the boy on its head, and the dog are running toward the precipice. This is a simultaneous event involving three different characters, which imposes a challenge on the signer as simultaneity and perspective shift need to be expressed. Not all perspective changes are clearly marked: the body orientation is kept toward the locus of the addressee in front of the signer. Fuad leans backwards to express how the boy supports himself on the deer in (220a), adopts a neutral upright position to sign antlers before he switches again to an SRF to narrate that the boy holds onto the antlers in (220b). To express the deer’s rise, he leans forward, again towards the same direction indicated previously even though this locus has been associated with the boy. By assumption (because reference is not established unambiguously in this narrative passage), he switches back to the perspective of the boy to narrate that he falls forward (on the deer, although this is not mentioned explicitly) in (220d), and continues with an SRF in (220e), in which he adopts the perspective of the running deer. It remains unclear why Fuad mentions the dog in this context. Neither is the meaning of signs following the sign dog in (220f) clear: does detloc refer to the location of the dog? Or does it refer to the location of the boy? Why does he produce the sign back-of-the-head in this context? By assumption the scene described is the one in which the deer runs toward the precipice with the boy on his neck, and the dog runs parallel to the deer. Yet the meanings expressed in (220) do not fully coincide with the picture story event. Not only does the passage contain some sequences which are ambiguous concerning the subject of the activity described, some parts, notably (220h), are incomprehensible.

Based on these observations, we may conclude that Fuad does not yet fully master the use of referential shift at this stage, in particular those aspects that are relevant at the discourse level. For further illustration we might consider the sequence in (221), in which the dog is reported to hit the tree (compare (221a)). In the story booklet, we can see that the consequence of this activity is the falling down of the beehive. Fuad, however, does not specify the object argument of the verb in (221b). Because the verb form fall is produced with the classifier hand- shape for human beings in (221c), the sequence is ambiguous as to the subject referred to. Only the audience acquainted with the frog story might infer that it is the beehive that fell as Fuad goes on to describe the bees’ behaviour (they are angry and frighten the dog). Yet if we follow this interpretation we must note that the classifier element of fall is not target-like.

Reference forms and functions. Fuad uses NPs to introduce the story characters. Reintroduction of referents at this stage occurs predominantly via NPs (with a [1]

relative percentage of 46.7 of a total of 37.5% of reference forms serving this function). Subject drop in reintroductory contexts occurs with a relative proportion of 33.3% (see Table 3.31 and Figure 3.7). Pronouns, by contrast are only used twice with this function. Typically, where protagonists are involved in a series of events, subjects are dropped (the relative proportion of subject drop in this case being of 95.0% of a total of 50.0% of forms serving reference maintenance).

Interestingly, two main protagonists, the dog and the frog, are introduced through as combination of the numeral one and an NP (compare (222)). Note, however, that Fuad uses this combination only for the introduction of these two characters (in example (216) above he uses detart with an NP to reintroduce the frog, which documents his knowledge of this determiner). Furthermore, example (217) above documents the use of a pronoun, probably to refer to the frog, but this is not mentioned explicitly. Based on these observations we may conclude that the use of the numeral with the NP, a phenomenon that we also observe in narratives of other participants in this study, though possibly an instance of language mixing, does not reflect a deficit in Fuad’s DGS grammar. Because the numeral one seems to serve the function of an indefinite determiner as it would be used in German at the beginning of a narration, we might speculate that this is a pragmatically determined phenomenon.

Table 3.31: Reference forms and functions in Fuad’s file 1.*

Reference forms

% of all forms

Function served

Introduction

Reintroduction

Maintenance

NP

32.5

12.5

(100)

17.5

(46.7)

2.5

(5.0)

detart/pr°npers

7.5

0

(0)

7.5

(20.0)

0

(0)

Subject drop

60.0

0

(0)

12.5

(33.3)

47.5

(95.0)

All

100

12.5

37.5

50.0

* 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-7.

Proportion of reference forms and functions in Fuad’s file 1

Figure 3.7: Proportion of reference forms and functions in Fuad’s file 1.

Expression of spatial relations. Turning to the expression of spatial relations, we can glean from the overview provided in Table 3.32 that Fuad includes information on the ground for the main story events he describes. He chooses NPs to refer to the ground, with only two exceptions, namely, when he narrates the frog’s escape out of the jar and when he recounts that the boy puts the frog on his hand. Notice that locations are backgrounded via h2-classifiers in utterances that involve complex classifier predicates. As for reference to the respective subjects we can see that it is not expressed overtly in three cases, all of them produced in the context of event descriptions that involve the same protagonist.

As we can see in example (216) discussed above and repeated here in (223) Fuad relates that the frog wants to get out. However, as the frog’s location has not been specified before it remains unclear where he escapes from. Note that the sign get-out is produced with a default h2-classifier hand form for a container. In general, however, more specific information on the ground is provided. In (217) above, for example, we learned that the boy spots the frogs behind the log. The location of the frog is expressed through a complex classifier construction: the h2-classifier refers to the log and detloc is used to determine the actual locus of the frogs. Notice that the ground (the log) is introduced previously via a full NP.

Table 3.32: Expression of figure-ground relations in Fuad’s file 1.

Ground / figure

Reference forms

Context

Ground

[antecedent]

Figure

R.-Frame-

work

Verb/DET

[activity]

jar

frog

h2cl

NP

FRF

spatial

[climb out]

tree

dog

NP

drop

SRF

agreement

[hits]

deer

boy

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[support oneself]

water

boy

NP (detloc)

drop

FRF

spatial

[fall]

log

boy

h2cl [NP]

pronoun

FRF

detloc

boy’s hand frog

h2cl

drop

SRF

agreement

[put]

  • [1] The sign run is modulated in a way that the two hands appear one behind the other.
 
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