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Dissertation Information

Title: The meaning of space in Catalan Sign Language (LSC). Reference, specificity and structure in signed discourse. Add Dissertation
Author: Gemma Barberà Altimira Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Cognitive Science and Language
Completed in: 2012
Linguistic Subfield(s): Pragmatics;
Director(s): Josep Quer

Abstract: This dissertation is concerned with the semantic and pragmatic
properties of sign space in Catalan Sign Language (llengua de signes
catalana, LSC). It offers a description and analysis of how spatial
locations are integrated in the discourse grammar of LSC concerning
the dynamic nature of discourse and taking into account dynamic
semantic theories. The dissertation offers new evidence in favour of
the r-locus view (Lillo-Martin & Klima, 1991), according to which spatial
locations stand for the representation of discourse referents. My
working hypothesis is that spatial locations are integrated into the
grammar of LSC and they need to be analysed with respect to the role
they play in the denotation of specificity and discourse structure. The
analysis is framed under the formalisation of Discourse Representation
Theory, on the basis of a small-scale LSC corpus.

I argue that non-descriptive locations are established in the three
spatial planes and the grammatical features contained within them are
comprehensibly described. Spatial locations are morphophonologically
marked with an abstract point in space which does not have a specific
direction on the horizontal plane and which is categorically interpreted
in the linguistic system. Discourse referents attached to narrow scope
quantifiers, exemplified by non-argumental NPs, donkey sentences,
distributivity and quantification contexts, genericity and reference to
kinds, do not occupy a spatial location in LSC. Only discourse referents
attached to wide scope quantifiers (i.e. those discourse referents not
bound by any operator) are formally represented by a spatial location
in actual signing.

Once strong arguments are provided showing that spatial locations in
LSC stand only for referential entities, the dissertation also shows that
the frontal plane is grammatically relevant for specificity marking: lower
spatial locations correlate with specificity, whereas upper locations
correlate with non-specificity. The three properties ascribed to
specificity, namely scope, partitivity and identifiability are associated
with the two directions on the frontal plane. The analysis is completed
with instances of discourse referents embedded in modal subordination
contexts, which are associated with locations established on the lower
frontal plane. Lower spatial locations correspond to discourse
prominence, defined as variables with backward looking properties as
well as forward looking properties, independently of the scope of the
quantifier attached to the variable.