Schlenker, Philippe and Lamberton, Jonathan:  to appear, “Formal Indices and Iconicity in ASL”. To appear in Logic, Language and Meaning: 18th Amsterdam Colloquium, Springer. 


[Full paper in pdf]


Abstract:  Iconic constraints play an important role in the semantics of sign language in general, and of sign language pronominals in particular (e.g. Cuxac 1999, Taub 2001, Liddell 2003, Lillo-Martin and Meier 2011). But the field is sharply divided among two camps: (a) specialists of formal linguistics (e.g. Neidle et al. 2000, Lillo-Martin 1991, Sandler and Lillo-Martin 2006) primarily attempt to integrate sign language pronominals to universal models of anaphora, giving iconic phenomena a peripheral position; (b) specialists who emphasize the centrality of iconicity (e.g. Taub 2001, Liddell 2003) do so within informal frameworks that are not considered as sufficiently explicit by the formalist side. We attempt to reconcile insights from the two camps within a formal semantics with iconicity (Schlenker 2011a). We analyze three kinds of iconic effects: (i) structural iconicity, in which relations of embedding among loci are directly reflected in their denotations; (ii) locus-internal iconicity
locus-external iconicity, in which the high position of a locus in signing space has a direct semantic reflex; and (iii) , where different parts of a structured locus are targeted by different directional verbs, as was argued by Liddell. We suggest that these phenomena can be understood if the interpretive procedure can, at the level of variables, impose an 'iconic mapping' between loci and the objects they denote.