Focus and construal in American Sign Language

Focus and construal in American Sign Language Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 2018, 108 doi:10.1093/deafed/enx039 Advance Access publication September 21, 2017 Book Review BOOK REVIEW Rankin, M. (2016). Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. Hardback. 135 pages. $80.00. Subject and object nominals in ASL have received much atten- constructions, such that the passivized agent in the English sen- tion in linguistic research in terms of position in the clause and tence is defocused? In an English passive, the agent is no longer the structural implications of “null”, or not overtly mentioned, in a focus position, but instead is demoted. Rankin’s English data arguments. Rankin takes an entirely different approach to their sentences include, for example, Your bicycle was damaged in the appearance in ASL clauses, grounded in Cognitive Grammar accident. Who damaged the bicycle is not stated overtly, but none- that examines focused and defocused agentive nominals (rather theless, someone is understood to have been at fault. To under- than strictly subject/object syntactic roles). Focus refers to the stand how this might play out in ASL, Rankin recruited four deaf prominence an element has in a clause over other elements. participants to do a set of translation exercises, the first of which Rankin gives the example (p. 13) of the sentences Scott bought is described and analysed in Chapters 4 and 5, where 20 written the painting from my sister and My sister sold the painting to Scott, English passive sentences were translated into ASL. Chapter 6 wherein the first sentence the buyer (Scott) is more prominent extends the study by giving the ASL signers short English pas- and thus in focus, whereas the second sentence is about what sages several sentences in length to translate, thus adding a the sister did, so she is in focus. Rankin’s study is motivated by discourse-level dimension to the study. Chapter 7 details one the question of whether ASL has passive “voice”, but takes a additional study where signers are asked to translate an ASL text broader stance regarding how signers profile agents, which into written English, in which the defocused agents in the ASL largely coincide with the subject of the sentence. This is depen- text appeared to prompt equally passive and impersonal con- dent on the signer’s construal of the agent’s prominence or structions in English. importance in the proposition. Rankin concludes by suggesting that at least in elicited The question of when a subject or object can be “deleted” translations her subjects showed a wide range of agent- from a clause in ASL has long been debated, either regarding defocusing strategies in ASL that are dependent on the signers’ what specific structures will allow, or in cognitive and discourse construal of the event. Because these were translation exer- analyses looking at the recoverability of the referent from the cises, we might ask how much the English passive construc- previous discourse context where it has been fully specified. For tions presented to the signers influenced their choices in example, a full noun phrase may have appeared in an earlier avoiding mention of agents, but altogether the study shows that clause, but in a subsequent clause it is “null”, or not mentioned, such strategies do exist in ASL. Elicited translation is a limiting yet it is still understood by the addressee. Rankin’s data reveal factor in understanding construal from a cognitive linguistics that subject and agent referents can be defocused, even to the perspective, so a further step of examining this in naturally- point of not being mentioned at all, across all types of ASL verb occurring ASL discourse is needed. Nonetheless, Rankin’s study constructions, such as plain, indicating, and depicting verbs gives us a welcome look at focus variability in ASL that has not (these are sometimes referred to as agreement and classifier been documented previously. The questions raised will appeal verbs), and surrogate blend constructions (Liddell 2003), when both to cognitive linguists, who might pursue further analyses of focus, profiling, and construal in ASL discourse, and to interpre- the signer’s construal of the event does not place focus on that referent. Rankin finds that defocused agent and subject nom- tation researchers, who strive to better understand the complex inals occur in a wide range of forms, from the referent not men- meanings that emerge from various grammatical constructions in tioned at all to other forms where the referent is indicated in ASL. some way phonologically but is never identified. Terry Janzen Beyond the introductory chapter and a chapter outlining University of Manitoba foundational theoretical constructs, Rankin’s third chapter in- troduces relevant features of ASL verb systems along with sur- Reference rogate blends as developed in Liddell (2003).Rankinlaysout her basic question here: How would signers express in ASL Liddell, S. K. (2003). Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American sentences given to them in English that include passive Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com. Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jdsde/article-abstract/23/1/108/4209324 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education Oxford University Press

Focus and construal in American Sign Language

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Abstract

Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 2018, 108 doi:10.1093/deafed/enx039 Advance Access publication September 21, 2017 Book Review BOOK REVIEW Rankin, M. (2016). Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. Hardback. 135 pages. $80.00. Subject and object nominals in ASL have received much atten- constructions, such that the passivized agent in the English sen- tion in linguistic research in terms of position in the clause and tence is defocused? In an English passive, the agent is no longer the structural implications of “null”, or not overtly mentioned, in a focus position, but instead is demoted. Rankin’s English data arguments. Rankin takes an entirely different approach to their sentences include, for example, Your bicycle was damaged in the appearance in ASL clauses, grounded in Cognitive Grammar accident. Who damaged the bicycle is not stated overtly, but none- that examines focused and defocused agentive nominals (rather theless, someone is understood to have been at fault. To under- than strictly subject/object syntactic roles). Focus refers to the stand how this might play out in ASL, Rankin recruited four deaf prominence an element has in a clause over other elements. participants to do a set of translation exercises, the first of which Rankin gives the example (p. 13) of the sentences Scott bought is described and analysed in Chapters 4 and 5, where 20 written the painting from my sister and My sister sold the painting to Scott, English passive sentences were translated into ASL. Chapter 6 wherein the first sentence the buyer (Scott) is more prominent extends the study by giving the ASL signers short English pas- and thus in focus, whereas the second sentence is about what sages several sentences in length to translate, thus adding a the sister did, so she is in focus. Rankin’s study is motivated by discourse-level dimension to the study. Chapter 7 details one the question of whether ASL has passive “voice”, but takes a additional study where signers are asked to translate an ASL text broader stance regarding how signers profile agents, which into written English, in which the defocused agents in the ASL largely coincide with the subject of the sentence. This is depen- text appeared to prompt equally passive and impersonal con- dent on the signer’s construal of the agent’s prominence or structions in English. importance in the proposition. Rankin concludes by suggesting that at least in elicited The question of when a subject or object can be “deleted” translations her subjects showed a wide range of agent- from a clause in ASL has long been debated, either regarding defocusing strategies in ASL that are dependent on the signers’ what specific structures will allow, or in cognitive and discourse construal of the event. Because these were translation exer- analyses looking at the recoverability of the referent from the cises, we might ask how much the English passive construc- previous discourse context where it has been fully specified. For tions presented to the signers influenced their choices in example, a full noun phrase may have appeared in an earlier avoiding mention of agents, but altogether the study shows that clause, but in a subsequent clause it is “null”, or not mentioned, such strategies do exist in ASL. Elicited translation is a limiting yet it is still understood by the addressee. Rankin’s data reveal factor in understanding construal from a cognitive linguistics that subject and agent referents can be defocused, even to the perspective, so a further step of examining this in naturally- point of not being mentioned at all, across all types of ASL verb occurring ASL discourse is needed. Nonetheless, Rankin’s study constructions, such as plain, indicating, and depicting verbs gives us a welcome look at focus variability in ASL that has not (these are sometimes referred to as agreement and classifier been documented previously. The questions raised will appeal verbs), and surrogate blend constructions (Liddell 2003), when both to cognitive linguists, who might pursue further analyses of focus, profiling, and construal in ASL discourse, and to interpre- the signer’s construal of the event does not place focus on that referent. Rankin finds that defocused agent and subject nom- tation researchers, who strive to better understand the complex inals occur in a wide range of forms, from the referent not men- meanings that emerge from various grammatical constructions in tioned at all to other forms where the referent is indicated in ASL. some way phonologically but is never identified. Terry Janzen Beyond the introductory chapter and a chapter outlining University of Manitoba foundational theoretical constructs, Rankin’s third chapter in- troduces relevant features of ASL verb systems along with sur- Reference rogate blends as developed in Liddell (2003).Rankinlaysout her basic question here: How would signers express in ASL Liddell, S. K. (2003). Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American sentences given to them in English that include passive Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com. Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jdsde/article-abstract/23/1/108/4209324 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018

Journal

The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf EducationOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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