Colloquium: Lynn Hou (University of California, San Diego)

Event Date: 

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • Arts 1353

Speaker: Lynn Hou (University of California, San Diego)

Topic: "Directional verb constructions under construction: The case study of San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language"

Reception: All are invited to a reception following the talk

Directional verb constructions under construction:

The case study of San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language

Lynn Hou, University of California San Diego


Directional verbs, or so-called verb agreement morphology, have attracted scholarly attention in recent work on emerging signed languages. In sign language linguistics, directional verbs constitute one class of verbs of transfer and motion that “point” to (or encode) their arguments through spatial modification of verb forms. Elicitation studies of different emerging sign languages, especially Nicaraguan Sign Language and Israeli Sign Language, suggest that second- and third-generation deaf signers create a more complex system of directionality.


Yet very little is known about how signing children and adults produce those verbs in usage events. Moreover, little is also known about how this process occurs in a signing community without critical masses of child peers in an educational institution for the deaf. I address this gap with a case study of an emerging sign language; I adopt a hybrid, ethnographic and usage-based approach.


San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language is a constellation of family sign language varieties that recently originated among eleven deaf people and their families in the San Juan Quiahije municipality in Oaxaca, Mexico. In this talk, I give a brief overview of the signing community, showing some similarities and differences in the language ecology of each family. I focus on how language emergence and acquisition is most robust in one extended signing family of first- and second-generation signers, and offer a construction-based analysis of their usage of directional and non-directional verbs.


An elicitation task revealed that the signers do not encode their arguments via pointing constructions and directional verbs and instead rely on constituent order and/or multiple single-argument clauses. Spontaneous conversations, on the other hand, show that signers deploy pointing and directional verb constructions for indicating arguments based on real-world space. The first-generation signer’s system treats directional verbs as verb islands and second-generation signers learn them in a piecemeal fashion but do not generalize them to other verbs beyond what is found in the input. Those findings highlight the role of usage events, along with the benefit of input, in the emergence and acquisition of directionality in a new sign language.