Skip to main content

Josep Quer

Josep Quer of Universitat Pompeu Fabra will speak at the UCSD Linguistics Department Colloquium on February 14, 2011, at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301.

Licensing empty arguments in sign languages: the view from Catalan Sign Language (LSC)

Spoken languages are known to vary as to the capability of leaving arguments unexpressed. The licensing and identification of empty arguments has been traditionally linked to rich verbal agreement in most Romance languages, but other accounts have been offered for languages that do display the phenomenon while lacking the relevant agreement morphology, like Chinese or Japanese (Jaeggli & Safir 1986, for instance). The existing syntactic accounts of null arguments rely on the specific licensing conditions of different empty categories such as pro and (topic-)bound variables or else on different kinds of ellipsis (essentially VP- and NP-ellipsis).

Albeit pervasive in most sign languages described to date, the phenomenon of null arguments has received little attention in the relevant literature, with the exception of Lillo-Martin (1991). Sign languages offer a particularly interesting case study in this domain, as they are heavily pro-drop but only show (manual) verb agreement on a subset of the lexical predicates. For ASL, Lillo-Martin argued for a dual analysis of null arguments, depending on whether they were licensed by agreement (pro) or by a null topic (variable), thereby showing different locality conditions on their licensing.

In this talk I will examine the empirical arguments offered for an NP-ellipsis analysis of null arguments (Saito 2007, Takahashi 2008, a.o.) on the basis of data from Catalan Sign Language (LSC), and will confront them with the existing view on ASL. As expected, we will see that sign languages do also vary in subtle and intriguing  ways in this specific domain of grammar.