Towards a corpus linguistics of sign languages: The case of indicating verbs in British Sign Language
Adam Schembri (University of Birmingham)
wednesday 3rd october 2018
In this talk, I will begin by addressing some of the widespread myths and misconceptions around sign languages (e.g., their origins, the universality of sign languages, their relationship to spoken languages) and what basic facts every (hearing) linguist really ought to know so that they can respond when they encounter these widespread misunderstandings. I will then focus on some of my work in collaboration with the British Sign Language Corpus (www.bslcorpusproject.org) team, discussing how the BSL Corpus was created, how it is being annotated, and what discoveries we are making in analysing the data. In particular, I will focus on recent work on a subset of verbs in BSL known as ‘indicating verbs’. These signs, found in the vast majority of sign languages documented to date, can move between locations in space associated with the referents of the arguments of the verb, and thus can use space to distinguish subject and/or object. They have been the subject of intense debate, because this directionality has been compared to person agreement marking in spoken languages. A number of claims about indicating verbs have been made in the BSL and the wider sign language linguistics literature, and we will explore how corpus-based studies have begun to challenge some of these assumptions.