Schlenker, Philippe: 2016. Logical Visibility and Iconicity in Sign Language Semantics: Theoretical Perspectives [Handbook Article].  Manuscript, Institut Jean-Nicod and New York University.

[Full paper at LingBuzz]

Abstract:     We argue that sign languages have a crucial role to play in the foundations of semantics, for two reasons. First, in some cases sign languages provide overt evidence on crucial aspects of the Logical Form of sentences, ones that must be inferred indirectly in spoken language (= 'Logical Visibility'). Examples involve loci, which might sometimes be the overt realization of logical variables; and Role Shift, which may be the overt realization of context shift. Second, along one dimension sign languages are strictly more expressive than spoken languages because iconic phenomena can be found at their logical core (= 'Iconicity'). Thus loci may have a depictive component, and Role Shift has iconic effects as well. From this perspective, spoken language semantics is along some dimensions a 'simplified' version of sign language semantics, one from which the iconic component has been mostly lost. While one may conclude that the full extent of Universal Semantics can only be studied in sign languages, an alternative is that spoken languages have comparable expressive mechanisms, but only when co-speech gestures are taken into account – hence the need for a precise semantics for gestures as well.

Note: a far more detailed presentation can be found in 'Visible Meaning: Sign Language and the Foundations of Semantics', to appear in Theoretical Linguistics.