College of Liberal Arts

Dissertation Defence: Cornelia Loos, “The Syntax and Semantics of Resultative Constructions in Deutsche Gebärdensprache (DGS) and American Sign Language (ASL),”

Thursday Jun 29, 2017 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM | CLA 1.302C

Complex cause-result events such as wiping a table off can be encoded linguistically with a single verb (clean), a resultative (wipe the table clean), or a multiclausal construction (wipe the table until it’s clean). Languages differ markedly in the kinds of events that can be described in a single clause; hence the present work explores whether Deutsche Gebärdensprache (DGS) and American Sign Language (ASL) can encode both manner of causation and result state within a single clause. Since an investigation of clause-level constructions presupposes a thorough understanding of clause boundaries, this dissertation starts by reviewing and adding to existing clausehood diagnostics in spoken and signed languages. Using these diagnostics in combination with video elicitation tasks and grammaticality judgments, I show that DGS has two monoclausal resultative constructions that differ in the order of causing and result predicates. The constructions both allow Control and ECM resultatives and may take a stative or change-of-state secondary predicate. Their semantics differs in that [Result Cause] resultatives exhibit event-to-scale homomorphy while [Cause Result] constructions do not.  

ASL has a single monoclausal resultative construction that licenses at least any causees selected by the verb. In contrast to English, no homomorphic mapping was attested in ASL resultatives. The two languages share a different aspect of their semantics, however. Through the first empirical investigation of directness of causation and its effect on the felicity of resultatives in English and ASL, the present study finds that the same factors govern directness in both languages. English and ASL resultatives are significantly less felicitous as descriptors of causative scenarios that feature a temporal delay between causing and result events. They are even less felicitous when an intermediate causer intervenes between ultimate causer and result. This study also shows that the ASL resultative construction has a subtly different semantics from its English counterpart. While the degree of indirectness of an intervening causer is attenuated by the ultimate causer’s intentionality, no such effect is found for ASL.   

In summary, the present work demonstrates that sign languages like DGS and ASL have syntactic resources for packaging event-structural information densely. These resources exhibit different constraints on usage than their German and English counterparts and are well-integrated into the grammars of DGS and ASL.

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