Nonmanual markings for topic constructions in Hong Kong Sign Language

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Across sign languages, topic constructions are marked by nonmanual features such as a brow raise and head tilt. This study investigates whether a topic constituent is marked nonmanually in Hong Kong Sign Language. Spontaneous and elicited data show that the majority of ‘scene-setting’ topics, which provide a temporal, spatial or individual framework for the proposition in the sentence, are accompanied with a brow raise and a specific head/body position different from the rest of the sentence. In contrast, ‘aboutness’ topics that represent what a sentence is about are neither marked by nonmanuals consistently nor separated intonationally from the rest of the sentence. Grammatical objects fronted to the sentence-initial position are not marked nonmanually, either. The findings suggest that there are cross-linguistic differences with respect to the functions of nonmanuals in the information structuring of sign languages.


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