Schlenker, Philippe, Aristodemo, Valentina, Ducasse, Ludovic, Lamberton, Jonathan and Santoro, Mirko:   The Unity of Focus: Evidence from Sign Language (ASL and LSF) [Squib]


Abstract:  In spoken language, focus (i) is often realized  by phonological prominence (e.g. with higher pitch, greater loudness and longer duration); (ii) it signals the activation of alternatives; (iii) it has diverse semantic effects, ranging from contrastive to exhaustive; and (iv) the phonology/semantics interface is arguably driven by a biological 'effort code' whereby greater pitch excursions are associated with greater emphasis (Gussenshoven 2001, 2004). We argue that versions of all four properties hold of ASL and LSF focus, which suggests that focus has a unified semantics and to some extent a unified semantics/phonology interface across modalities.  Earlier studies emphasized the diversity of focus realization in ASL, and the importance of syntactic movement (Wilbur 2012), which made it hard to isolate the role of prosody. By studying particularly simple paradigms in which movement is inapplicable, we show that sign modulations and non-manuals may suffice to mark focus, with both contrastive and exhaustive effects, as in spoken language. And we  suggest that a modified version of the 'effort code' is arguably at work in ASL and LSF, with focused signs realized not just with raised eyebrows (as is standard), but also with greater amplitude, speed acceleration, and  longer hold times, among others. Finally, we note some differences between our ASL and our LSF data – notably the presence of forward leans in ASL but not in LSF (which, however, includes head nods).