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Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language

Miako N. P. Rankin

Publication Year: 2013

The meaning of any linguistic expression resides not only in the words, but also in the ways that those words are conveyed. In her new study, Miako N. P. Rankin highlights the crucial interrelatedness of form and meaning at all levels in order to consider specific types of American Sign Language (ASL) expression. In particular, Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language, Miako N. P. Rankin considers how ASL non-agent focus, similar to the meaning of passive voice in English. Rankin’s analyses of the form-meaning correspondences of ASL expressions of non-agent focus reveals an underlying pattern that can be traced across sentence and verb types. This pattern produces meanings with various levels of focus on the agent. Rankin has determined in her meticulous study that the pattern of form-meaning characteristic of non-agent focus in ASL is used prolifically in day-to-day language. The recognition of the frequency of this pattern holds implications regarding the acquisition of ASL, the development of curricula for teaching ASL, and the analysis of ASL discourse in effective interpretation.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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p. v-v

Editorial Advisory Board

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p. vi-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Editor’s Note

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pp. ix-xii

Ceil Lucas wrote that her goal for the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities series was to “provide reports of current research on all aspects of sociolinguistics in Deaf communities, bilingualism and language contact, variation, discourse analysis, language policy and planning, language attitudes” (Lucas 2010, xv). In this volume, Miako Rankin...

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Chapter 1 Introduction

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pp. 1-8

Teeming with thoughts, the human mind by nature desires to connect with other human beings. Our thoughts are dynamic and multifaceted. They range from the mundane to the extraordinary, and from moment to moment we seek to communicate statements of the directly and presently tangible as well as flights of fancy and intricate abstractions. We recognize...

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Chapter 2 Foundational Concepts

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pp. 9-24

The primary content of this book is the description of the various levels of focus with which agents of events can be expressed in American Sign Language (ASL). Before we get to the details of the ASL data, however, we need to look more closely at the direct link between meaning and form. Let us thus consider the range of impersonalization strategies that occur...

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Chapter 3 Features Relevant to Agent Focus in ASL

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pp. 25-34

We now turn to issues of ASL syntax relevant to the analysis of structures that impact the level of focus on agents in ASL. We look first at nonovert arguments and then at indicating verbs and surrogates. Since these features influence the level of focus on entities in ASL utterances, the concepts introduced in this section are vital for our understanding of ...

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Chapter 4 Defocused Agents in ASL Utterances

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pp. 35-55

Chapters 4 and 5 present my analysis of agent focus in ASL utterances elicited as translations of individual passive sentence prompts from English. The elicited ASL translations include a variety of utterance types. As discussed in chapter 2, the level of focus on an entity depends on both the specificity with which it is expressed and the prominence it is given within ...

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Chapter 5 ASL Structures Used to Express Reduced Agent Focus

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pp. 56-76

In addition to fully defocused utterances, which make up the majority of the data elicited as translations of passive sentences from English, some of the ASL utterances express an agent construed as having reduced focus. They do so in one of two ways: the agent is expressed either with overtly elaborated trajectors that occur in underspecified forms and in positions ...

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Chapter 6 Agent Focus in ASL Texts

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pp. 77-109

When multiple utterances are combined into a text, the level of focus on a given entity is determined by its semantic specificity and grammatical prominence at two levels: within each individual utterance and within the structure of the discourse unit when viewed as a whole. At the utterance level (see chapters 4 and 5), the specificity of the semantic content...

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Chapter 7 Agent Focus in ASL-to-English Translation

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pp. 110-119

The data from the ASL-to-English sentence and text translation tasks, presented in chapters 4, 5 and 6, show that ASL users do have ways to defocus the agent. They do so by leaving the agent unexpressed, producing utterances in which the trajector is not overtly elaborated and which evoke a construal similar to that expressed by English passive constructions....

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Chapter 8 Conclusion

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pp. 120-126

Appropriate use of the English passive construction can be difficult for deaf English language learners to master (Goldberg and Astley 1986) and is also quite difficult, in my personal experience, to teach effectively. In English language classrooms with deaf students, the teachers often find themselves in the position of explaining the meaning of particular constructions...


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pp. 127-130


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pp. 131-136

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685743
E-ISBN-10: 1563685744
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685736
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685736

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 15 figures, 25 sign illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Volume Title: