Schlenker, Philippe: 2015.  Sign Language and the Foundations of Anaphora [Survey Article].  Manuscript, Institut Jean-Nicod and New York University.

[Full paper at LingBuzz]

Abstract:   On the surface, sign language anaphora is often realized very differently from its spoken language counterpart. In simple cases, an antecedent is associated with a position or 'locus' in signing space, and an anaphoric link is obtained by pointing towards that locus to recover its semantic value. It has been argued that this mechanism is sometimes an overt realization of the device of coindexation in formal syntax and semantics. Summarizing some recent semantic work, we discuss two kinds of insights that sign language research can bring to the foundations of anaphora. First, in some cases the overt nature of indices in sign language makes it possible to bring overt evidence to bear on classic debates in semantics. We consider two: the first concerns the availability of situation-denoting variables in natural language (we argue that pointing signs can be situation-denoting in addition to being object-denoting); the other concerns the availability of binding without c-command (we suggest that sign language provides overt evidence for such a possibility). Second, in some cases sign language pronouns raise new challenges for formal semantics. In a nutshell, the challenge is that loci may simultaneously function as formal variables and as simplified depictions of what they denote – which requires the construction of a formal semantics with iconicity to analyze their properties.