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finish variation and grammaticalization in a signed language: How far down this well-trodden pathway is Auslan (Australian Sign Language)?

  • Trevor Johnston (a1), Donovan Cresdee (a1), Adam Schembri (a2) and Bencie Woll (a3)

Language variation is often symptomatic of ongoing historical change, including grammaticalization. Signed languages lack detailed historical records and a written literature, so tracking grammaticalization in these languages is problematic. Grammaticalization can, however, also be observed synchronically through the comparison of data on variant word forms and multiword constructions in particular contexts and in different dialects and registers. In this paper, we report an investigation of language change and variation in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Signs glossed as finish were tagged for function (e.g., verb, noun, adverb, auxiliary, conjunction), variation in production (number of hands used, duration, mouthing), position relative to the main verb (pre- or postmodifying), and event types of the clauses in which they appear (states, activities, achievements, accomplishments). The data suggest ongoing grammaticalization may be part of the explanation of the variation—variants correlate with different uses in different linguistic contexts, rather than social and individual factors.

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Language Variation and Change
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