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From Embodied Perspective to Grammar in American Sign Language

Terry Janzen (University of Manitoba)  
Friday, May 18th 

To say that language is embodied means that the structure of language is shaped to some extent by our bodily experience of interacting with our environment. Important in this conceptualization of the world and of our language use (because we also conceptualize the link between ideas and language form) is that the human body is oriented in space in a particular way, with a particular perspective on that space. Signed languages are especially revealing because of their visible articulation around a rather large external space; conceptualized spatial elements are visibly mapped on to real space elements in signers’ discourse. In this talk we look at how the embodied perspective of the signer has led over time to entrenched grammatical structures. We look at the roles of gesture, pragmatic inferencing and semantic generalization in the emerging grammar of constructions in ASL in an attempt to elucidate how grammaticalization plays out in a signed language.

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