Iconic Plurality
Philippe Schlenker, Jonathan Lamberton
July 2018

ASL (American Sign Language) can express plurals by repeating a noun, in an unpunctuated fashion, in different parts of signing space. We argue that this construction may come with a rich (and at-issue) iconic component: the geometric arrangement of the repetitions provides information about the arrangement of the denoted plurality; in addition, the number and speed of the repetitions provide information about the size of the denoted plurality. Interestingly, the shape of the repetitions may introduce a new singular discourse referent when a vertex can be inferred to denote a singular object. Thus one may point towards the first or last iteration of a horizontal repetition of BOOK to denote the left- or right-edge of the corresponding row. This yields a remarkable interaction between iconic semantics and standard logical semantics. We show that our analysis extends to 'punctuated' repetitions, which involve clearly individuated iterations of a singular noun. While these may initially look like coordinated indefinites, they are better handled by the same iconic framework as plural, unpunctuated repetitions. Some repetition-based mass terms also give rise to iconic effects, and to different readings depending on whether the repetition is continuous, unpunctuated, or punctuated. Our analysis highlights the need for a formal semantics with iconicity to study the integration of such iconic and logical conditions. It also raises a question: can similar facts be found in spoken language when gestures are taken into account? We suggest that several effects can be replicated, especially when one considers examples involving 'pro-speech gestures' (= gestures that fully replace some spoken expressions).
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003306
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in Linguistics & Philosophy
keywords: sign language semantics, iconicity, plurals, mass terms, unpunctuated repetitions, punctuated repetitions, continuous repetitions, semantics
previous versions: v4 [May 2018]
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