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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

Verb inflection and the syntax-discourse interface. While we found grammatical processes related to functional projections above the VP to be operative already in file 1, it becomes apparent in file 3 that this knowledge is used so as to comply with discourse requirements. In other words, we observe the mastery of the mechanisms that determine the interface between syntax and discourse. For further illustration of how spatial verbs and agreement verbs are used in complex descriptions of the story events, we might consider the sequence provided in

(275). We can see that Hamida recounts first the bee’s approaching by using a spatial verb within a fixed referential framework; she then shifts reference and adopts the perspective of the bee to recount how it flaps its wings, frightening the dog, before she switches back to an FRF to recount that the dog is nearly stung by the bee using the agreement verb sting. Notice that Hamida uses the body as a classifier to indicate the location of the stinging (the dog’s neck).

Reference forms and functions. Changes between FRFs and SRFs in file 3 are easier to follow because Hamida often uses full NPs to reintroduce referents other than the boy. For further illustration consider example (276), the sequence in which Hamida recounts how the dog looks at a beehive with the belief that the frog might be in it. The sequence also documents Hamida’s skilful use of complex classifier constructions at this stage, which marks a difference to her narrative in file 1 (recall that in that narrative this type of construction was not documented).

Subject-drop continues to predominate as the option of choice where the boy is reintroduced as a protagonist, which is reflected in turn in the relatively high frequency of subject-drop (46.2% out of a total of 22.4% of reference forms serving this function, the same percentage obtained for NPs, cf. Table 3.38 and Figure 3.10).

The analysis of the data also reveals that there are still some complex events that represent a challenge for the signer, such as the one involving the boy’s falling on the deer after his misperception of the deer’s antlers (cf. examples (277) and (278)). Note though that the attribution of the thematic perspective to the boy renders it easier to discern which activities are to be assigned to the deer and the dog respectively. Hamida first produces the sequence in (277), which is followed by a sketch of other events occurring simultaneously to this one (such as the owl’s watching at the top of a tree, not included in the example). She then recounts the boy’s calling for help in (278a), before she finally describes the boy’s misperception, as he holds himself on the antlers of a deer without knowing it.

Table 3.38: Reference forms and functions in Hamida’s file 3.*

Reference forms

% all forms

Function served

Introduction

Reintroduction

Maintenance

NP

20.7

6.9

(100)

10.3

(46.2)

3.4

(4.9)

detart/pr°npers

3.4

0

(0)

1.7

(7.7)

1.7

(2.4)

Subject drop

75.9

0

(0)

10.3

(46.2)

65.5

(92.7)

All

6.9

22.4

70.7

* 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-10.

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

Figure 3.10: Proportion of reference forms and functions in Hamida’s file 3.

Language contact. It must be noted in this context that one recurrent phenomenon in file 3 is the use of the numeral one in combination with the subject NP (compare (267) above). Example (279) is remarkable because it contains an indication of the cross-linguistic dimension of the use of this determiner: the production of the letter E might be taken as evidence for her aim to spell the determiner ein (‘a’) as it would be spelt in written German. In fact, what might be attributed the status of a slip of the hand provides a clue about language mixing given that the determiner is not fully spelt, as Hamida interrupts the spelling and continues to produce the numeral one instead. Because one seems to fulfil the function of an indefinite determiner, that is, the determiner the participants commonly use in combination with nouns in their written German narratives, it seems we are dealing here with a potential candidate for language mixing.

Expression of spatial relations. In contrast to file 1, in which spatial relations remained largely unexpressed, information on figure-ground configurations is provided in the majority of cases in file 3. As we can glean from the summary provided in Table 3.39 Hamida often uses NPs to designate the objects or locations in question (cf., for example, (280)).

Only the location of the frog’s escape remains unaccounted for in this narrative, as Hamida uses a complex classifier construction with a generic h2-classifier, but does not recount before that the frog was sitting in a jar. While the scene as such is clear, we must note that the relation between this object and the jar the dog puts on his head, remains unexpressed.

Table 3.39: Expression of figure-ground relations in Hamida’s file 3.

Ground / figure

Reference forms

Context

Ground [antecedent] Figure

R.-FrameworkVerb/DET

[activity]

(jar)

frog

h2cl

NP

FRF

spatial

[jump out]

(jar)

frog

drop

drop

SRF

spatial

[get out]

(jar)

frog

h2cl

drop

FRF

spatial

[jump out]

jar

dog

DET NP

NP

FRF

agreement

[puts on]

(sill)

boy

drop

NP

SRF

spatial

[support on]

soil mount

hamster

h2cl [CL:FORM]

drop

FRF

spatial

[come out]

beehive

frog

NP

NP

FRF

pred

[detloc-J

beehive

boy

CL:FORM

drop

SRF

spatial

[hold on]

tree

boy

NP

drop

FRF

spatial

[climbs on]

stone

boy

NP

drop

SRF

spatial

[climb on]

stone

boy

drop

drop

FRF

spatial

[stands on]

Table 3.39: continued

Ground / figure

Reference forms

Context

Ground [antecedent]

Figure

R.-FrameworkVerb/DET

[activity]

deer

boy

NP

drop

FRF

spatial

[falls on]

deer

(antlers)

boy

NP

drop

SRF

agreement

[holds on]

dog

boy’s

head

drop

body cl

FRF

spatial

[sit on]

(log)

boy

drop

drop

SRF

spatial

[hold on]

 
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