Colloquium: "The grammaticalization of embodied action: Is constructed action gesture or language?"

Event Date: 

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 3605

Sherman Wilcox: University of New Mexico

The relation between signed languages and gesture has long been the source of controversy. For centuries, signed languages were not regarded to be languages at all, but merely depictive gesture. In the modern era, this controversy centered around the question of whether signed languages exhibit Hockett's design feature of duality of patterning.
I will address these questions within the context of a usage-based approach to language, with a focus on constructed action. Constructed action in signed languages has been defined as reporting, usually via a demonstration, of another’s actions. One issue that sign linguists often struggle with is the linguistic status of constructed action. On one hand, it is a common utterance type, especially in narratives, and is regarded by signers as the acceptable way to describe the actions of others, to be obligatory. On the other hand, constructed action appears not to be describing at all: that is, rather than using language to describe actions, constructed action seems to be depictions of those actions. Because of this, it has been suggested that constructed action is gesture and not language. Taking a usage-based approach, I suggest, helps to resolve this question and others regarding the relation between language and gesture, and provides evidence to suggest that linguistic structure is emergent.