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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys the expression of modality and mood in American Sign Language (ASL), with a focus on modality and, specifically, modal verbs. Beyond sentence types, mood has not been explored extensively for ASL to date, although recent work on irrealis moods has been fruitful. For a signed language such as ASL, articulation with the hands is accompanied by distinctive facial gestures and body/head postures, which become increasingly important as epistemic readings of modals are obtained. Here we give a detailed discussion of modals in ASL that range from agent-oriented to epistemic, looking at both form and function, including some negative modals. We trace the grammaticalization of a number of modal categories and show how at least some of these categories have grammaticalized from earlier gestural sources. Regarding mood, we include some discussion of conditionals, hypotheticals, and counterfactuals.

Keywords: ASL, modal verbs, gesture, grammaticalization, intersubjectivity

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