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date: 26 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter shows that the formal properties that have been identified as defining traits of human languages in the generative tradition hold in sign languages as well. Specifically: (i) clauses in sign languages have a hierarchical and recursive organization, (ii) general constraints on syntactic movement (i.e., the fact that the landing site must c-command the base position) are valid for language across modalities, and (iii) universal interpretative constraints that govern anaphora in spoken languages (i.e., Principle C of Binding Theory) are valid in the sign languages studied up to now. This notwithstanding, sign languages require refinements of analytical categories initially developed for spoken languages. For example a macro-typological difference between sign and spoken languages needs to be captured by revising the theory of wh-movement. Universal constraints holding across languages in the acoustic and in the visuospatial modalities do exist, although a fully satisfactory formulation needs to take into account findings emerging from the booming field of sign language linguistics.

Keywords: sign languages, universal grammar, wh-movement, Principle C, recursion

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