Schlenker, Philippe. 2010. "Quantifiers and Variables: Insights
from Sign Language (ASL and LSF)"
[non-technical discussion of donkey anaphora and sign language]
Note: Several important
details (including many ASL and LSF examples) are found in the Appendix.
Abstract: In standard logical
systems, quantifiers and variables are essential to express complex
relations among objects. Natural language has expressions that have an
analogous function: some noun phrases play the role of quantifiers
(e.g. every man), and some pronouns play the role of variables (e.g.
him, as in Every man likes people who admire him). Since the 1980’s,
there has been a vibrant debate in linguistics about the way in which
pronouns come to depend on their antecedents. According to one view,
natural language is governed by a ‘dynamic’ logic which allows for
dependencies that are far more flexible than those of standard logic.
According to a competing view, traditional logic does not have to be
revised to be applied to natural language. While the debate centers
around the formal links that connect pronouns to their antecedents,
these links are not overtly expressed in spoken language, and the
debate has remained open. In sign language, by contrast, pronouns can
literally ‘point’ towards their antecedents. We argue that in crucial
cases the formal connections postulated by the dynamic view are
morphologically realized in American and French Sign Language, and we
discuss consequences of this finding for the characterization of the
logic that underlies sign and spoken language.