LINGUIST List 12.3018

Tue Dec 4 2001

Books: Morphology

Editor for this issue: Richard John Harvey <>

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  1. Ora Matushansky, Morphology: Verb Agreement in Signed Languages

Message 1: Morphology: Verb Agreement in Signed Languages

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 22:04:36 -0500
From: Ora Matushansky <matushanMIT.EDU>
Subject: Morphology: Verb Agreement in Signed Languages

MIT PhD thesis 2001

Gaurav Mathur ;Verb Agreement as Alignment in Signed
$12. For ordering information, visit our Web page:


This thesis provides a novel way of looking at verb agreement in
signed languages by using an interaction of several processes within
the Distributed Morphology framework. At the center of the model is a
phonological re-adjustment rule, called 'alignment,' which handles
various forms of agreement, including orientation change, path
movement, relative position of the hands, and/ or a combination of
these. Further evidence is taken from cross-linguistic data from
American Sign Language, German Sign Language, Australian Sign
Language, and Japanese Sign Language, as well as from interaction with
several other morphemes. It is shown that the output of the alignment
process is filtered by various phonetic constraints and may be
replaced by an alternative form that does not otherwise violate
phonetic constraints.

The model outlined above leads to a new typology of signs: first there
are spatial verbs, followed by plain verbs which do not have two
animate arguments, followed by aligning verbs which by definition have
two animate arguments. These aligning verbs contain a subset of verbs
that are in theory capable of undergoing alignment without violating
phonetic constraints. This subset in turn contains another subset of
verbs that are listed as actually undergoing alignment in a particular

The model rests on the assumption that the referential use of space lies
outside of the grammar. Removing the referential space from the grammar
removes the modality difference between spoken and signed languages with
respect to 'agreement.' The remaining differences will lie in how
agreement is implemented. Both spoken and signed languages make use of
different processes within the morphology component to generate the
agreement system (e.g. impoverishment, vocabulary insertion, and
phonological re-adjustment rules), but otherwise they draw on the same
set of processes made available by the grammar.

Ora Matushansky
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Monday, July 23, 2001