Identifying sentences in signed languages
  • ISSN 1387-9316
  • E-ISSN: 1569-996X
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The question of sentence boundaries in sign language texts is approached by way of a case study in this paper. A short sample German Sign Language (DGS) text is segmented into elementary units and subjected to a functional analysis that identifies topics, predications, adjuncts and conjuncts as the constituents of textual units of a sentence or clause type, i.e. units with propositional content. Results largely agree with and partly refine the results of an earlier more intuitively based analysis. We then turn to a consideration of formal markings of sentence boundaries, reviewing a number of candidates for ‘boundary markers,’ i.e. specific manual signs, gestures, head nods, eye blinks, and dynamic features such as gaze direction, pauses, and transitions, inspecting if these co-occur with any consistency with the boundaries established on the basis of our consideration of propositional content. Results indicate that, while there is a certain correlation between sentence boundaries and the occurrence of these form elements, neither of these functions consistently or exclusively as boundary marker. Formal markings can be predicted to enter but not dominate the larger interpretative process of making sense of a signed text and recognizing its constituent sentences.


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