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Space and iconicity in German sign language (DGS)

Perniss, P. M. (2007). Space and iconicity in German sign language (DGS). PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.
This dissertation investigates the expression of spatial relationships in German Sign Language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache, DGS). The analysis focuses on linguistic expression in the spatial domain in two types of discourse: static scene description (location) and event narratives (location and motion). Its primary theoretical objectives are to characterize the structure of locative descriptions in DGS; to explain the use of frames of reference and perspective in the expression of location and motion; to clarify the interrelationship between the systems of frames of reference, signing perspective, and classifier predicates; and to characterize the interplay between iconicity principles, on the one hand, and grammatical and discourse constraints, on the other hand, in the use of these spatial devices. In more general terms, the dissertation provides a usage-based account of iconic mapping in the visual-spatial modality. The use of space in sign language expression is widely assumed to be guided by iconic principles, which are furthermore assumed to hold in the same way across sign languages. Thus, there has been little expectation of variation between sign languages in the spatial domain in the use of spatial devices. Consequently, perhaps, there has been little systematic investigation of linguistic expression in the spatial domain in individual sign languages, and less investigation of spatial language in extended signed discourse. This dissertation provides an investigation of spatial expressions in DGS by investigating the impact of different constraints on iconicity in sign language structure. The analyses have important implications for our understanding of the role of iconicity in the visual-spatial modality, the possible language-specific variation within the spatial domain in the visual-spatial modality, the structure of spatial language in both natural language modalities, and the relationship between spatial language and cognition
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