Sign Language Structures

Susan D. Fischer and Harry van der Hulst

in The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Volume 1, Second Edition

Second edition

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199750986
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Sign Language Structures

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  • Educational Psychology
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This chapter provides an introduction to the linguistic (i.e. grammatical) structure of sign languages. The main components of sign languages are described in terms both of major research results and of controversies and problem areas. The section on word formation (or morphology) discusses various processes of inflection (agreement, aspect, plurals, and tense) and provides some illustration of derivational processes (change of word class, classifiers, and compounding). The section on phonology deals with the compositional organization of signs in terms of features for handshape, orientation, place, and movement, with specific attention to questions regarding the way that these units are organized in structures of increasing size, ranging from segment, syllables, and prosodic words to phonological and intonation phrases. This section also provides examples of phonological processes and phonotactic restrictions. A third section focuses on syntax and deals with the basic and derived constituent order, and addresses issues such as topicalization, anaphoric relations, the role of nonmanuals (e.g., facial expressions and head and body postures), and complex sentences. Although much of the discussion is based on American Sign Language (ASL), other sign languages are also examined for comparison. Additionally, the relationship between sign languages and spoken languages is addressed.

Keywords: sign language phonology; sign language morphology; derivational morphology; sign language syntax; village sign languages; deaf; hard-of-hearing; hearing loss

Article.  9694 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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