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  • Signs and Structures: Formal Approaches to Sign Language Syntax ed. by Pawel Rutkowski
  • Vadim Kimmelman (bio)
Signs and Structures: Formal Approaches to Sign Language Syntax, ed. Pawel Rutkowski (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015). ISBN 978-9-027-24259-4; EUR 80.00; Hardbound; 143 pages.

Signs and Structures: Formal Approaches to Sign Language Syntax is a collection of papers published as a special issue of Sign Language & Linguistics 16(2) (2013); the papers were initially presented at the Warsaw conference on Formal and Experimental Advances in Sign Language Theory in 2012. Since this conference was not devoted to one particular topic, the book is also not thematically homogeneous. Nevertheless, the motivation for publishing this collection is clear and commendable: Its contributions reflect some of the most important directions in the current research on the syntax of sign languages within formal linguistics. The topics discussed in the book have been widely explored recently, and these papers add valuable data, analyses, and theoretical implications to the debate.

The first contribution, by Natasha Abner, is devoted to the ASL possessive marker poss, which can be used attributively (e.g., bruno poss book “Bruno’s book”) and predicatively (book poss bruno “The book belongs to Bruno”). Contrary to previous analyses, Abner argues that the attributive poss is derived from the predicative poss. She provides several convincing arguments (from morphology, syntax, and semantics) in favor of her analysis. For instance, she notes that the predicative poss but not the attributive poss has a transitive agreement pattern and that some of the word orders possible for the predicative poss are not possible in the attributive construction. Semantically, the predicative poss is more restricted: It can express only ownership (strict possession), but not other interpretations, such as authorship, so book poss bruno can mean only that he owns it, not that he wrote it. Focusing on the predicative poss, Abner shows that it is a verb: It appears in the same positions as lexical verbs, shows [End Page 592] object and optional subject agreement, and can be aspectually marked. She then offers an explicit syntactic account in which predicative poss is combined with the possessor and the possessee to build a VP, and then the VP is embedded as a complement of a locative predicate (Loc), which forms a complex predicate together with poss. This (in combination with object shift) accounts for possible word orders in the predicative structure and also explains why only strict possession can be expressed by the predicative poss: The locative head is responsible for this semantic restriction. Attributive poss is not restricted this way because it is derived through relative clause formation that targets the structure below Loc. Other properties of attributive poss are also accounted for by the explicit analysis of the relative clause formation. The article is well argued and clearly written, which should also make it accessible to nonformal linguists.

The second contribution, by Chiara Branchini and colleagues, addresses the phenomenon of wh-doubling (wh-duplication in the authors’ terms) in Italian Sign Language (LIS). The phenomenon of doubling has recently received a good deal of attention, and a formal analysis in term of Nunes’s (2004) copy theory of movement has been suggested for other sign languages. However, previous research (including some conducted by the same authors) has claimed that LIS does not have wh-doubling. In this contribution the authors report that, in corpus data, 13 percent of all cases of wh-questions involve wh-doubling. The authors then use the corpus data to analyze general properties of this phenomenon and to demonstrate that the copies are phonologically and prosodically identical if one takes into account the effect of phrase-final lengthening. By drawing on additionally elicited data, the authors argue that the copies of the wh-word occur in Spec,CP (which is to the right in LIS) and in Spec,FocP (which is to the left). They account for the identical phonological realization of the copies and other syntactic properties of the construction by claiming that the copies actually belong to different chains sharing one foot (the in situ instance of the wh-word). This is an...


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