Event Calendar

Thursday, August 15, 2024

Meet the author of 'Verbal classifiers from a crosslinguistic and cross-modal point of view’

Start Date: 8/15/2024 11:00 AM EDT
End Date: 8/15/2024 12:00 PM EDT

Organization Name: LSA Webinar Team

LSA Webinar Team
Email: membership@lsadc.org
Phone: (202) 835-1714

Join the Associate Editor of Language, Diane Brentari (University of Chicago), in a conversation with Kadir Gökgöz about his paper, 'Verbal classifiers from a crosslinguistic and cross-modal point of view,' published in Language, Volume 100, Number 2, June 2024.


Whether spoken language verbal classifiers and sign language classifier handshapes are comparable enough to be treated similarly is a subject of debate in the literature. In this article, I first show that both spoken language verbal classifiers and sign language classifier handshapes cross-reference the internal argument in intransitive and transitive clauses. Despite differences in the modality of expression (visual-gestural vs. auditory-oral), verbal classifiers end up accomplishing this same kind of work in the grammar, which falls under absolutive alignment. From a morphosyntactic point of view, however, there is more to the story, as data from body-part classifiers reveal. I show that Turkish Sign Language (TID) is similar to Manam, Diegueño, and Cherokee with regard to classifiers cross-referencing the external or internal argument’s body part. While some of this falls outside of absolutive alignment because cross-reference is to the external argument, I show that the syntactic distributions of clauses with body-part classifiers in both modalities can be accounted for with a few modifications to recent morphosyntactic proposals originally offered for sign languages. This supports the conclusion that verbal classifiers are comparable across modalities. Along the way, I refine Benedicto and Brentari’s (2004) account and propose that there are building blocks (selected fingers and hand-parts) in the morphophonology of TID that combine to yield the range of classifiers that researchers hitherto have tended to describe with holistic labels. Namely, all classifier types in sign languages (whole entity, handling, and body part) employ selected fingers that cross-reference the internal argument in some way, similarly to how many spoken language verbal classifiers cross-reference internal arguments. Furthermore, handling and body-part classifiers make use of hand-parts that can cross-reference the body part of the external argument. Similarities between the spoken languages Manam, Diegueño, and Cherokee and the sign language TID in cross-referencing the body part of an argument in syntax become clear, and the morphophonological patterns of hand-parts also reveal handling and body-part classifiers in sign languages to be more similar than previously thought.