Gestural Grammar
Philippe Schlenker
January 2020

We argue that some properties of sign language grammar have counterparts in non-signers' intuitions about gestures, including ones that are probably very uncommon. Thus despite the intrinsic limitations of gestures compared to full-fledged sign languages, they might access some of the same rules. While gesture research often focuses on co-speech gestures, we focus instead on pro-speech gestures, which fully replace spoken words and thus often make an at-issue semantic contribution, like signs. We argue that gestural loci can emulate several properties of sign language loci (= positions in signing space that realize discourse referents): there can be an arbitrary number of them, with a distinction between speaker-, addressee- and third person-denoting loci. They may be free or bound, and they may be used to realize 'donkey' anaphora. Some gestural verbs include loci in their realization, and for this reason they resemble some 'agreement verbs' found in sign language (Schlenker and Chemla 2018). As in sign language, gestural loci can have rich iconic uses, with high loci used for tall individuals. Turning to plurality, we argue that repetition-based gestural nouns replicate several properties of repetition-based plurals in ASL (Schlenker and Lamberton, to appear): unpunctuated repetitions provide vague information about quantities, punctuated repetitions are often semantically precise, and rich iconic information can be provided in both cases depending on the arrangement of the repetitions, an observation that extends to some mass terms. We further suggest that gestural verbs can give rise to repetition-based pluractional readings, as their sign language counterparts (Kuhn 2015, Kuhn and Aristodemo 2017). Following Strickland et al. 2015, we further argue that a distinction between telic and atelic sign language verbs, involving the existence of sharp boundaries, can be replicated with gestural verbs. Finally, turning to attitude and action reports, we suggest (following in part Lillo-Martin 2012) that Role Shift, which serves to adopt another agent's perspective in sign language, has gestural counterparts. (An Appendix discusses possible gestural counterparts of 'Locative Shift', a sign language operation in which one may co-opt a location-denoting locus to refer to an individual found at that location.)
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003497
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Natural Language & Linguistic Theory:
keywords: gestures, co-speech gestures, pro-speech gestures, sign language, loci, iconicity, locative shift, plurality, unpunctuated repetitions, punctuated repetitions, telicity, semantics, syntax
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