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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Sun Dec 19, 1999  7:38 pm
Subject:  Re: writing compounds (from Joe Martin)

Date: Sat, 18 Dec 1999 15:45:44 -0800 (PST)
From: Joe Martin
To: signwriting list
Subject: compounds

There is no easy answer to the question "what is a compound?" because,
like most things in linguistics, we can't quite define them precisely.

All language--signed or spoken--have similar processes for building new
words; often they start with phrases. As the phrases become familiar they
start being pronounced a little different, and people start to reflect
this difference in their writing if they can--maybe by putting in hyphens,
or writing two words as one. The important thing is that it shows a new
way of pronouncing the word.

In English, there are all sorts of houses, including white ones, and in
time one particular white house got important and became the whitehouse.
There are two changes; the stress moved, and the "juncture" (the
amount/type of pause between the words) changed. This is typical of

In ASL, there was the sign for GIRL, and the sign for SAME, and they got
put together to describe a SISTER, likewise with pronunciation changes.
The movement in GIRL reduced to a mere touch of the chin, the linking
movement--bringing the hand down to the other one--took on a
certain special shape, and SAME got all changed around (there are
different versions). Overall the new compound sign reduced to one,
simpler sign by deleting the pause in the middle, reducing the first
motion, and the other changes which are all typical of ASL.

So there are clear differences between compound signs and
phrases--blackbird, whitehouse, applesauce, appletree. English only gives
us three choices--two words, one word, or hyphen--but Signwriting should
allow us to record the exact pronunciation. If the word is not pronounced
the same as it is when by itself, then we are seeing this compounding
process, and should be able to record the difference in pronunciation, if
we want to. It seems like using hyphens is just choosing convenience of
notation over strict accuracy. (I don't delude myself that this is easy in
either case)

Have Hopes Hairsplitting Helps Here. ;-)

Joe Martin, Plain Old Ordinary Student
Top Left Corner USA

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