Kuhn, Jeremy. 2019. Logical meaning in space: Iconic biases on quantification in sign languages.

Manuscript, Institut Jean-Nicod (CNRS), Ecole Normale Supérieure.

[Full paper at LingBuzz]

Abstract: Typologically, the world's languages vary in how they express universal quantification and negative quantification. In patterns of concord, a single distributive or negative meaning is expressed redundantly on multiple morphological items. Sign languages, too, show semantic variation, but, surprisingly, this variation populates only a small corner of the full typological landscape. Sign languages systematically have distributive concord but tend to not have negative concord in its canonical form. Here, I explain these typological facts as the reflection of an abstract, iconic bias. Recent work on distributive concord and negative concord has proposed that these phenomena can be explained in relation to the discourse referents that they make available. I argue that discourse reference is also uniquely important to the iconic use of space in sign languages. The quirky sign language typology is thus explained based on what is easy and hard to represent in space.

Keywords: Quantification, sign language, iconicity, negative concord, distributivity, discourse reference, typology, cognitive biases