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Grammaticalization and modality: the emergence of a case-marked pronoun in Israeli Sign Language

  • IRIT MEIR (a1)

This paper focuses on the role of modality in determining certain properties of grammaticalization processes in signed vs. spoken languages. The process examined here is the evolution of a case-marked pronoun in the pronominal system of Israeli Sign Language. This pronoun is shown to have evolved from the homophonous noun PERSON. The grammaticalization path leading to the evolution of a case distinction is compared to the evolution of case markers in spoken languages. This comparison reveals that languages in different modalities target different words as sources for grammaticalization. Case markers in spoken languages usually evolve from certain nouns or verbs denoting spatial relations, while in sign languages this is not the case. It is suggested that this difference might be attributed to the scarcity of prepositions in sign languages, and to the iconicity of spatial predicates, which may restrict the possible grammaticalization processes in which they may participate.

Corresponding author
Author's address: The Department of Hebrew Language and The Laboratory for Sign Language, Linguistics and Cognition Research, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. E-mail:
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This work was partly supported by a post-doctoral grant from the Research Authority of the University of Haifa to Irit Meir, and a grant from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation no. 9500310/2, for the project ‘Morphology in Two Sign Languages’, principal investigators Mark Aronoff and Wendy Sandler.I would like to thank Orna and Doron Levy and Meir Etdegi for providing the ISL data on which this study is based, and for useful discussions of these data. I am grateful to Carol Padden and Malka Rappaport Hovav for very helpful discussions of topics related to the data, to Mark Aronoff and Wendy Sandler for reading and commenting on this paper, and to three anonymous JL referees for their valuable comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 7th International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Linguistics, Amsterdam, July 2000. I thank the participants for their comments and questions.Illustrations are copyright © by Irit Meir, Laboratory for Sign Language, Linguistics and Cognition Research, University of Haifa.
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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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