2010 | 46 | 4 | 367-390
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Describing Motion Events in Sign Languages

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Research has shown that sign languages represent space by using the body and the signing space in front of the signers. To date, it is largely unknown to what extent sign languages differ from one another in their linguistic use of space. The present study addressed this question by conducting an experimental study on basic motion event descriptions in historically unrelated sign languages: American, Croatian, Austrian, and Turkish Sign Languages. It was found that these sign languages are similar to one another in the use of classifiers to encode location, orientation, and movement of objects, and that they are similar in using path-only and path+manner descriptions, while leaving out manner-only descriptions. However, these sign languages differ from one another in their lexical signs, in choosing a particular set of classifiers, in responding to the manipulations of objects in space, and in the ratio of path-only constructions with respect to path+manner constructions for the same events. Overall, this study contributes to our knowledge of how motion events are encoded in natural human language. Future research will compare the current findings with those from spoken languages to further explore the properties of the language of motion events.
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