• Section A: Phonology & phonetics
  • Section B: Morphology
  • Section C: Syntax
  • Section D: Semantics & pragmatics
  • Section E: Typology
  • Section F: Psycholinguistics & neurolinguistics Section G: Sociolinguistic variation & language change
  • Section H: Applied issues in sign linguistics Section I: Documentation & transcription

Phonology & phonetics (section A)

Section A consists of three chapters (chapters 2-4) discussing basic concepts of sign language phonetics, phonology and prosody including phonetic properties of the articulators and phonetic variation and assimilation (chapter 2); phonological parameters and rules as well as the phonological structure of signs and syllables (chapter 3); and prosodic constituency and manual and non-manual marking of prosodic structure (chapter 4). Non-manual features are discussed in each chapter from a different perspective.

Morphology (section B)

Section B deals with the morphological component of sign languages; it consists of seven chapters. Word formation, including non-manual elements with a morphological function, and word classes are the topic of chapter 5. Chapters 6-9 consider different inflectional features: the expression of plurality, agreement, classifiers and tense, aspect and modality in sign languages. Two specific word classes, namely agreement auxiliaries and pronouns are discussed separately in sections 10 and 11.

Syntax (section C)

Syntactic issues are addressed in section C, which consists of 6 chapters. The internal structure of sentences and noun phrases are the topics of chapters 12 and 13. In section 14, sentence types, such as declaratives, interrogatives, and imperatives, are discussed. Section 15 deals with the polarity of sentences (affirmation and negation) as well as with constituent negation. Both chapters 16 and 17 deal with the structure of complex sentences. While section 16 looks at subordination and coordination, section 17 is concerned with the expression of indirect speech and reported action by means of role shift. In all chapters in this section, non-manual markers are of utmost importance.

Semantics & pragmatics (section D)

Semantic and pragmatic issues are dealt with in the five chapters of section D. Modality-specific aspects play a prominent role in chapters 18 and 19, which look at the role of iconicity and the expression of metaphor, and semantic and pragmatic dimensions of the use of signing space, respectively. Lexical semantics, most importantly semantic relations and semantic fields, are addressed in section 20. The chapter on information structure focuses on the manual and non-manual expression of topic and focus. The final chapter of this section takes a closer look at communicative interaction in sign language discourse.

Typology (section E)

As mentioned above, sign language typology and the influence of modality are topics that have recently become subjects of great interest. Variation between sign languages (i.e. intra-modal variation) is discussed in chapters 23 and 24. Chapter 23 deals with genetic (language families) and linguistic (phonological, morphological, and syntactic) aspects of variation. Chapter 24 is dedicated to the phenomenon of village sign languages. Variation between signed and spoken languages (i.e. intra-modal variation) and the influence of modality on language structure is discussed in chapter 25. The gesture-sign distinction is the topic of chapters 30 and 31. Chapter 30 takes a closer look at home sign systems developed by deaf children in the absence of sign language input, while chapter 31 considers similarities and differences between gestures and signs (both manual and non-manual) from a more general perspective.

Psycholinguistics & neurolinguistics (section F)

Section F contains five chapters on psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics. In this section, the issue of modality figures prominently. Chapter 28 provides an overview of the acquisition of phonological, morphological, and syntactic properties of sign languages. The role of iconicity is also addressed. Language comprehension and working memory are the topics of chapter 29, while production issues, with, most importantly, the properties of slips of the hand, are dealt with in chapter 30. Chapter 31 focuses on the neurolinguistics of sign languages. The discussion includes localisation of sign language in the brain and brain imaging studies. Finally, chapter 32 will address various aspects of atypical signing, including developmental impairments, motor impairments, and sign language aphasias.

Sociolinguistic variation & language change (section G)

Just like spoken languages, sign languages are subject to sociolinguistic variation and diachronic change. Sociolinguistic variation is the topic of chapter 33. Issues to be addressed include regional, gender, ethnic, diachronic, and register variation. The topic of chapter 34 is the impact of language politics on sign languages including their status as minority languages, language suppression, and standardisation. Chapters 35-37 address various aspects of language change (which go beyond those tackled in chapter 33): externally-triggered change by means of language contact with and borrowing from other signed and spoken languages (chapter 35), as well as internally-triggered change on the levels of morphology and morphosyntax by means of lexicalisation and grammaticalisation (chapter 36). Finally, chapter 37 addresses the issue of creolisation from two perspectives: the emergence of sign languages from home sign systems and the comparison of sign languages and creole languages.

Applied issues in sign linguistics (section H)

The section on applied issues starts with an overview of the history of sign languages and developments in sign language linguistics (chapter 38). Chapter 39 discusses issues in deaf education as well as bilingualism in deaf and hearing signers. Sign language interpretation – linguistic as well as cultural and educational issues – are addressed in chapter 40. Here, the status of International Sign is also discussed. Finally, section 41 turns to a special kind of register variation, i.e. sign language poetry. Again, linguistic, historical, and cultural aspects are included.

Documentation & transcription (section I)

The three chapters of the final section I describe modality-specific theoretical and practical issues of data collection and description. The first chapter looks at methods of data presentation and elicitation and discusses problems imposed by the modality (chapter 43). A recurrent issue in the study of sign languages is data transcription: chapter 44 sketches the most important challenges and discusses various transcription systems. The final chapter of this section considers sign language lexicography including computer-based technologies and computational aspects such as automatic translation (chapter 45).