[UMR] Kearsy Cormier (DCAL, UCL)
Kearsy Cormier (DCAL, UCL)
Sign languages, gesture and multimodality
The search for linguistic universals (and understanding universals in the face of diversity) is one of the key issues in linguistics today. Yet the vast majority of the linguistic research has focused only on spoken languages. Sign languages constitute an important test case for theories on universals and diversity, since a language “universal” only deserves this name if it holds both for signed and spoken languages, and languages in a different modality surely have much to teach us about the full range of diversity within human language. In this talk I consider four morphosyntactic/discourse phenomena – pronouns, classifiers, agreement and role shift - found in sign languages. These structures have traditionally been assumed to be the same as spoken languages but, on closer inspection, reveal some fundamental differences relating to particular affordances of the visual-spatial modality. In order to understand these differences in more detail, linguists must consider the multimodal nature of human language (including gesture) rather than just the classic linguistic characteristics which are the exclusive focus of much work in mainstream approaches to the study of language.