The Syntax of British Sign Language: an Overview

Caudrelier, Gail Christine (2014) The Syntax of British Sign Language: an Overview. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The central aim of this research project is to identify and describe a range of grammatical structures found in British Sign Language, resulting in an account of the types of structures found and any possible motivations for their use. British Sign Language is the first or preferred language of a large number of Deaf people in Britain, and may have as many as 120,000 users (British Deaf Association, 2013). Despite Government recognition as an official language in March 2003 (United Kingdom Council on Deafness, 2003), there is little theoretical research, at an in-depth structural level, that can tell us much about the syntactic nature of the language. This research intends to expand the current knowledge of the syntactic processes occurring in British Sign Language, which has been established to some degree by Brennan et al., 1984; Kyle and Woll, 1985; Deuchar, 1984 and more recently Sutton-Spence and Woll, 1999, and Cormier, Smith and Sevcikova (2013, in press). With its central focus on clause structures, this research investigates the following questions:
1 What syntactic structures are found in BSL?
2 What are the frequencies of predicate types and clause structures?
3 What influences on syntax does the visual cognition of BSL users have?
4 What influences on syntax does the morphology of the language have?

The analytical approach taken is to analyse British Sign Language entirely in its own terms and not to assume a priori a syntactic model derived from spoken languages. While conducting an inductive level of research with regards to the data, the approach is informed by cognitive linguistics (Croft and Cruse, 2009) and the semiogenetic model of signed languages (Fusellier-Souza, 2006; Slobin, 2008). The analysed data comprise samples of narratives selected from The British Sign Language Corpus, compiled by the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, based at University College London. Presented in the form of quantitative tables, the analysis leads to statistics of types and frequencies of use of the central predicate structures found, as the study examines constituents within clauses and relationships that enable clause linkage. These types and frequencies are then considered in light of a cognitive explanation for their occurrence and illustrated by qualitative examples in boxes-within-boxes notation form (Kay, 2002).

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