Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flavours of SL Morphology

Recent research on Sign Language (henceforth, SL) morphology has discovered evidence that SLs exhibit a complex morphology in two flavours- simultaneous and sequential. The difference between the two flavours, Aronoff, Meir, & Sandler (2005: 309) mentions, ‘[T]hese two types of morphology differ from one another with respect to the phonological means they employ, the grammatical categories they encode, their productivity, and their diachronic development.’

The sequential morphology is affixal- grammaticalised from free lexical items, derivational, do not involve morphosyntactic categories, and of limited productivity. Such sequential morphology is found in ASL and IrSL and is rare in both the SLs. In the former flavour, the different morphemes of a word (see Zeshan (2002) for the notion of word in SL) are simultaneously nested over each other by altering the direction, rhythm, or path shape of the citation form of sign, and not by sequencing new phonological segments to the word. The morphologically complex structures- verb agreement, classifier constructions, and verbal aspects- are inflectional and productive. There are deep-seated cross-linguistic similarities in the grammatical categories these forms encode as well as the form they take in their morphological structure.

Simultaneous is sequential
Stokoe’s (1960) phonemic analysis of ASL sign took three formational parameters- HAND CONFIGURATION, LOCATION, and MOVEMENT- (note that ORIENTATION (ORT), the fourth formational parameter, was identified in 1974 by Robbin Battison) to be articulated cotemporally. His analysis also revealed that signs are organized simultaneously (simultaneity is found in every level of SL structure. Various motivations have been given for the simultaneity in SL (see Klima & Fischer 1972; Klima & Bellugi 1979; Supalla 1991)) unlike words of spoken language, which later came to be known as the simultaneous model. Stokoe recognized that at least some elements of signs had to be ordered sequentially, even if the articulation appears simultaneous (Liddell 1984). Supalla & Newport 1978; Padden 1983; Liddell 1984; Sandler 1986; and other researchers proposed the sequential model based on the movement sequences. They analysed the sequential nature of MOVEMENT in sign, and have decomposed into elements arranged either in sequence or simultaneously with sequential elements (Padden 1988: 257).

Sequential is simultaneous
Supalla (1982) approached the phonological structure of ASL signs by focussing on a subclass of morphologically complex signs- verbs of motion and location. Unlike other signs, a verb of motion and location is morphologically complex where each phonological unit is also morpheme (such single feature morpheme involving palatalisation and tonal modification is found in Japanese and Chichewa, respectively (as cited in Schembri 2003: 8)) reflecting the same structure for the phonological and the morphological organisations. A single string of signs can mean ‘A vehicle passed through the hill and turned up near the tree.’ In this string handshape and orientation which remain the same throughout the string without being taken back to the normal neutral position (a position of hands where and when a signer is at rest i.e. no sign is formed), denotes VEHICLE-Classifier (see Supalla 1982 for details; Schembri 2003) and upright position, respectively. The change of the orientation denotes that the vehicle is turned up. Such construction is simultaneous at the level of morphology and sequential at the level of syntax.

To sum up, there is a kind of continuum/overlapping between different levels in their organisation in SL. The simultaneous morphology is found in all SLs studied so far- a SL universal (Emmorey 2002) and form a language type in which no known spoken language falls under it (Sandler & Lillo-Martin 2001).