Further development: mastery of the syntax-discourse interface

Compared with file 1, Hamida’s narrative in file 3 is characterised by a more consistent recounting of the frog story. Her narration is coherent, reflecting also her skilful use of the target linguistic devices to establish cohesion.


Structural complexity. All in all, the structures produced in file 3 are remarkably complex. Typically, sketches of the characters’ activities are followed by more detailed accounts of the story events, their temporal and causal relations. Intricate narrative events are expressed via complex sentential constructions and simultaneously expressed propositions. For further illustration we might consider example (267). Notice that (267) involves a relative clause modifying the object the dog sticks his head into. This sequence is not only remarkable from a structural perspective, it also highlights Hamida’s progress at the narrative level (recall that few details were provided in file 1). It is important to note also that relative clauses were not observed in the productions of the other participants in this study, with the exception of Muhammed.

While Hamida produces several single wh-word interrogative clauses, we also find several examples of fully expressed interrogations, such as the one provided in example (268). Again, the sequence is remarkable from a narrative perspective also, as the signer informs about the emotions of the protagonist who is excited about how the frog might have escaped.

Hamida’s skilful shifting of referential frameworks in file 3 includes the use of mixed perspectives, as is illustrated in (269). Notice that Hamida signs the verb

wake-up first in combination with a sleepy facial expression; while the verb sign is kept on hold she changes her facial expression to one full of curiosity, and, after leaning slightly to the side and forward (as if spotting the empty jar) she changes the facial expression to one of surprise.

Another remarkable phenomenon concerns the production of semi-repetitions, which typically involve the provision of more specific information about the activity described in the first place. In (270), for example, the location of the boy’s search is further specified. In other cases, as in (271), the proposition is repeated to provide information about the agent of the activity (in (271) the relevance of this information results from the circumstance that the boy is reintroduced as a protagonist after the description of the frog’s escape).

Because this “delayed” provision of information in the context of repetitions is a recurrent phenomenon in the narratives collected, caution is required in the interpretation of some sequences, in particular where sentence boundaries are difficult to establish. This is the case in example (272). Notice that the overt reference to the frog in (272) occurs between the first and the second proposition which leaves us with the question of where to establish sentence boundaries in this sequence, which is a critical question given that VS orders are not target-like in DGS. The choice of the verb think in (272) might strike us as unusual at first sight (because Hamida goes on to describe that the frog climbs out of the jar), yet we have also seen in other narratives collected in this study that participants often recount this episode by pointing out first that the frog has the idea of leaving, before narrating then that he actually escapes. Finally, worthy of mention is Hamida’s use of adver- bials (for example, later in example (271), then in example (272), or suddenly in (267) above) to mark temporal relations between the events narrated.

Simultaneous constructions. Hamida’s advanced narrative competence is also reflected in the use of several simultaneous constructions. In (273), for example, we can see that the determiner detexist is produced simultaneously with frog. The sequence in (274) illustrates the use of a mixed perspective to express that the dog sits on the head of the boy, frightened (because he doesn’t like the water they have fallen into). While the non-dominant hand retains the perspective of the dog, the dominant hand is used to express his fright.

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