Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Roland Pfau - Sign Language Negation: From Head Movement to Negative Head

Headshakes commonly accompany spoken utterances as co-speech gestures signaling negation, uncertainty, or intensification (Kendon 2002). While the distribution of gestural headshakes appears rather unconstrained, it has been shown that in sign languages (SLs), the occurrence of negative headshakes is constrained by syntactic structure and is subject to language-specific constraints. It has therefore been argued that the headshake is a grammaticalized gesture (Pfau 2015).
In this presentation, I discuss the interaction of the headshake with manual markers of sentential negation in various SLs and sketch the attested typological variation. Focusing on data from German SL, Turkish SL, and Italian SL, I then offer an account of the variation in terms of (un)interpretable features associated with negative elements (Zeijlstra 2004). Adopting Zeijlstra's classification, I argue that German SL is a Strict Negative Concord language while Turkish SL displays characteristics of a Non-strict Negative Concord language. For Italian SL, I discuss - but reject - the possibility that it can be classified as a Double Negation language. Finally, I add to the typological picture recent findings on SL of the Netherlands and Inuit SL.