Sign language agreement. Common ingredients, but unusual recipe
Roland Pfau, Martin Salzmann, Markus Steinbach
April 2018

The sign language phenomenon that some scholars refer to as ‘agreement’ has triggered controversial discussions among sign language linguists. Crucially, it has been argued to display properties that are at odds with the notion of agreement in spoken languages. A thorough theoretical investigation of the phenomenon may thus add to our understanding of the nature and limits of agreement in natural language. We argue against three approaches: (i) previous non- syntactic gesture-based approaches, (ii) hybrid accounts combining syntactic and thematic agreement and (iii) analyses that treat agreement markers as clitics. Instead, we show that sign language agreement is consistently syntactic agreement and that it can be accounted for by means of mechanisms that have been independently proposed for spoken language. We argue that the modality-independent syntactic account proposed in this paper is able to capture the distinction of verb types, the behavior of backwards verbs, and the use of the agreement auxiliary. However, we suggest that the combination of mechanisms is modality-specific, that is, agreement in sign language involves modality-independent ingredients, but uses a modality-specific recipe. It is the very nature of agreement in sign languages, its spatial and gestural properties, that motivates the distinction of verb types and the existence of backwards verbs, and which thus calls for an unusual combination of independently motivated mechanisms.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003644
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Ms.
keywords: sign language agreement, agree, agreement reversal, rule ordering, periphrasis, auxiliaries, analytic verb forms, syntax
previous versions: v1 [August 2017]
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