Word formation below and above little x: Evidence from Sign Language of the Netherlands

Zwitserlood, I. (2003). Word formation below and above little x: Evidence from Sign Language of the Netherlands. In Proceedings of SCL 19. Nordlyd Tromsø University Working Papers on Language and Linguistics (pp. 488-502).
Although in many respects sign languages have a similar structure to that of spoken languages, the different modalities in which both types of languages are expressed cause differences in structure as well. One of the most striking differences between spoken and sign languages is the influence of the interface between grammar and PF on the surface form of utterances. Spoken language words and phrases are in general characterized by sequential strings of sounds, morphemes and words, while in sign languages we find that many phonemes, morphemes, and even words are expressed simultaneously. A linguistic model should be able to account for the structures that occur in both spoken and sign languages. In this paper, I will discuss the morphological/ morphosyntactic structure of signs in Nederlandse Gebarentaal (Sign Language of the Netherlands, henceforth NGT), with special focus on the components ‘place of articulation’ and ‘handshape’. I will focus on their multiple functions in the grammar of NGT and argue that the framework of Distributed Morphology (DM), which accounts for word formation in spoken languages, is also suited to account for the formation of structures in sign languages. First I will introduce the phonological and morphological structure of NGT signs. Then, I will briefly outline the major characteristics of the DM framework. Finally, I will account for signs that have the same surface form but have a different morphological structure by means of that framework.
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