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date: 20 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter demonstrates that the Information Structure notions Topic and Focus are relevant for sign languages, just as they are for spoken languages. Data from various sign languages reveal that, across sign languages, Information Structure is encoded by syntactic and prosodic strategies, often in combination. As for topics, we address the familiar semantic (e.g. aboutness vs. scene-setting topic) and syntactic (e.g. moved vs. base-generated topic) classifications in turn and we also discuss the possibility of topic stacking. As for focus, we show how information, contrastive, and emphatic focus is linguistically encoded. For both topic and focus constructions, special attention is given to the role of non-manual markers, that is, specific eyebrow and head movements that signal the information structure status of constituents. Finally, aspects that appear to be unique to languages in the visual-gestural modality are highlighted.

Keywords: sign language, topic, focus, non-manuals, modality

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