forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Dan Parvaz
Date:  Sat Feb 23, 2002  2:12 am
Subject:  Re: Sign Classes

> Yes, but 11 answers is a good beginning.

Only if one (or more) of them bears fruit :-)

> Would you share the theories until we find the rules.

Some of them are quite beyond me. Mostly these have to do with existing
theories of looking at language, and seeing how they explain/predict
what we see in signed languages.

Take pronouns in ASL. As Neidle et al. (which includes Judy Kegl :-)
point out in their recent book _The Syntax of American Sign Language:
Functional Categories and Hierarchical Structure_ what are usually
called "pronouns" in ASL look the same as what linguists call
"determiners" (the, this, that, etc.) in ASL -- they point at stuff.
This matches up with, among other things, pronouns and determiners in
Romance languages, which sprang from a common source (_ille_ and
company) in Latin.

However, there are other ways of looking at this. Scott Liddell at
Gallaudet makes a pretty persuasive case for the pointing in ASL being
more like plain old pointing, and not pronouns (1st, 2nd, 3rd persons,
etc.) as we usually think of them. Laura Ann Petitto's work on the
acquisition of these signs indicates that kids acquire them in the same
way that English-speaking kids learn pronouns.

I've glossed over the subtleties in their arguments. They all make
strong cases which are consistent with their several theoretical
orientations. None of this really helps someone who is asking "Do signed
languages have pronouns?" The short answer for me is "Signed languages
have things which perform the same functions as pronouns in other
languages. Whether or not they behave in exactly the same way is
another question." You can say the same for every other part of "speech."

It makes a fair amount of sense to begin with the assumption that
whatever this thing is that Deaf people use to ask, complain, praise,
fall in love, mourn, dream, gossip, chit-chat and lecture in *is*
language. Understanding that point is what made people like the Abbé de
l'Épée and Bill Stokoe so special. The rest is just details to keep
linguists (and their grad students!) employed :-)



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