The syntax and semantics of resultative constructions in Deutsche Gebärdensprache (DGS) and American Sign Language (ASL)

Loos, Cornelia
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Complex cause-result events such as wiping a table off can be encoded linguistically with a single verb (clean), a resultative (wipe the table clean), or a multiclausal construction (wipe the table until it’s clean). Languages differ markedly in the kinds of events that can be described in a single clause; hence the present work explores whether Deutsche Gebärdensprache (DGS) and American Sign Language (ASL) can encode both manner of causation and result state within a single clause. Since an investigation of clause-level constructions presupposes a thorough understanding of clause boundaries, this dissertation starts by reviewing and adding to the existing clausehood diagnostics in spoken and signed languages. Using these diagnostics in combination with video elicitation tasks and grammaticality judgments, I show that DGS has two monoclausal resultative constructions that differ in the order of the causing and result predicates. The constructions both allow Control and ECM resultatives and may take a stative or change-of-state secondary predicate. Their semantics differ in that resultatives with [Result Cause] word order exhibit event-to-scale homomorphy while those with [Cause Result] word order do not. ASL has a single monoclausal resultative construction that encodes at least Control resultatives but, in contrast to English, does not exhibit homomorphic mappings. ASL shares a different aspect of resultative semantics with English: directness of causation. The present work presents the first empirical investigation of directness of causation and its effect on the acceptability of resultatives in English and ASL. It finds that both English and ASL resultatives are significantly less acceptable as descriptors of causative scenarios in which there is a temporal delay between causing and result events. This study further shows a significant decrease in acceptability of English and ASL resultatives when an intermediate causer intervenes between ultimate causer and result. Through controlled experiments on resultatives in both languages, I show that temporal delays and intervening causers decrease directness independently and to significantly different degrees. Lastly, this study identifies subtle differences in the semantics of ASL resultatives and their English counterparts. While the degree of indirectness of an intervening causer is attenuated by the ultimate causer’s intentionality in English, no such effect is found for ASL. In summary, the present work demonstrates that sign languages like DGS and ASL have syntactic resources for packaging event-structural information densely. These resources exhibit different constraints on usage than their German and English counterparts and are well-integrated into the grammars of DGS and ASL.