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      The syntax of sign language agreement: Common ingredients, but unusual recipe

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          Abstract

          The sign language phenomenon that some scholars refer to as “agreement” has triggered controversial discussions among sign language linguists. Crucially, it has been argued to display properties that are at odds with the notion of agreement in spoken languages. A thorough theoretical investigation of the phenomenon may thus add to our understanding of the nature and limits of agreement in natural language. Previous analyses of the phenomenon can be divided into three groups: (i) gesture-based non-syntactic analyses, (ii) hybrid solutions combining syntactic and semantic agreement, and (iii) syntactic accounts under which agreement markers are reanalyzed as clitics. As opposed to these accounts, we argue in this paper that sign language agreement does represent an instance of agreement proper, as familiar from spoken language, that is fully governed by syntactic principles. We propose an explicit formal analysis couched within the Minimalist Program that is modality-independent and only involves mechanisms that have been independently proposed for the analysis of agreement in spoken language. Our proposal is able to capture the (apparent) peculiarities of sign language agreement such as the distinction of verb types (only some verbs show agreement), the behavior of backwards verbs (verbs displaying agreement reversal), and the distribution of the agreement auxiliary. However, we suggest that the combination of mechanisms is modality-specific, that is, agreement in sign language, and in German Sign Language in particular, involves modality-independent ingredients, but uses a modality-specific recipe which calls for a (somewhat) unusual combination of independently motivated mechanisms.

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          Most cited references115

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          Step by Step – Essays in Minimalist Syntax in Honor of Howard Lasnik

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            The Antisymmetry of Syntax

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              The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                2397-1835
                Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
                Ubiquity Press
                2397-1835
                09 October 2018
                2018
                : 3
                : 1
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Universiteit van Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, 1012 VT Amsterdam, NL
                [2 ]Universität Leipzig, Beethovenstr. 15, 04107 Leipzig, DE
                [3 ]Universität Göttingen, Käte-Hamburger-Weg 23, 37073 Göttingen, DE
                Article
                10.5334/gjgl.511
                c615d892-5258-44d2-b7fb-643795b00d27
                Copyright: © 2018 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                Categories
                Research

                General linguistics,Linguistics & Semiotics
                Minimalist Program,auxiliaries,agreement,ergativity,German Sign Language,differential object marking

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