Eye gaze and verb agreement in German Sign Language

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Eye gaze as a nonmanual component of sign languages has not yet been investigated in much detail. The idea that eye gaze may function as an agreement marker was brought forward by Bahan (1996) and Neidle et al. (2000), who argued that eye gaze is an independent agreement marker occurring with all three verb types (plain verbs, spatial verbs, and agreeing verbs) in American Sign Language (ASL). Thompson et al. (2006) conducted an eye-tracking experiment to investigate the interdependency between eye gaze and ASL verb agreement in depth. Their results indicate that eye gaze in ASL functions as an agreement marker only when accompanying manual agreement, marking the object in agreeing verbs and the locative argument in spatial verbs. They conclude that eye gaze is <i>part</i> of an agreement circumfix. Subsequently, I conducted an eye-tracking experiment to investigate the correlation of eye gaze and manual agreement for verbs in German Sign Language (DGS). The results differ from Thompson et al.&#8217;s, since eye gaze with agreeing verbs in the DGS data did not occur as systematically as in ASL. Nevertheless, an analysis of verb duration and the spreading of a correlating eye gaze suggests that there is a dependency relation between eye gaze and manual agreement.


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