Macquarie University
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Patterns from a signed language corpus: clause-like units in Auslan (Australian sign language)

posted on 2022-03-29, 01:05 authored by Gabrielle Hodge
Linguists have long been interested in the grammatical structure of native signed languages. The identification and analysis of units such as clauses and sentences has been of particular interest, and these units have been investigated from various theoretical approaches using various methods. Yet despite an extensive literature, most studies have concluded that the identification and analysis of grammatical units such as clauses and sentences in signed languages is difficult and problematic. The aim of this study is to explore whether signed utterances can be identified and analysed from a clause-level perspective of analysis. To explore this aim, twenty retellings from the Auslan Corpus were enriched with annotations to identify and analyse possible ‘clause-like’ units (units that are potentially clauses) in the study corpus, and to identify and analyse how some of these units are linked via relations of hypotaxis. These units were identified by considering the composite nature of signed utterances as they are cocreated between interactants during their face-to-face interactions. A proportion of these units were re-interpreted and re-analysed by two other annotators to ascertain percentage rates of disagreement, to resolve problematic analyses, and to identify subjective differences in the interpretation, annotation and analysis of the clause-like units identified in the study corpus.Exploration of these annotated and checked units resulted in the identification of regular patterns of organisation in the study corpus. Many patterns appear to constitute clause-like units that may be identified and explored elsewhere in the Auslan Corpus, and may consequently suggest entrenched ‘structures’ of signed language use. Some patterns appear to constitute strategies of co-construction that emerge as the retellings unfold, and are highly dependent on the spatio-temporal context for recognition and interpretation. Yet other patterns appear to constitute units that are primarily by-products of the linguistic analysis undertaken here, and as such cannot be described as structures of signed language use in the study corpus.This thesis finds that signed utterances in narratives can be identified and analysed from a clause-level perspective of analysis, but that the patterns identified represent a range of analyses—not all of which align with findings reported for other signed and spoken languages, or which necessarily suggest entrenched patterns of language use. An analysis of signed utterances from a clause-level perspective points only to symptoms of grammaticalised clause structure, not conclusive evidence of it. These findings support recent studies that indicate the tight integration of showing and telling meaning in face-to-face languages, but has significant implications for earlier claims regarding the structure of native signed languages, as well as future investigations of both signed and spoken languages.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Clause-level constructions in signed languages -- 3. Theoretical approach -- 4. Corpus linguistics, the Auslan corpus, and the study corpus -- 5. Checking annotations in the study corpus -- 6. First exploration : single CLU composites -- 7. Second exploration : CLU composites with hypotactic linkage -- 8. Conclusions.


Bibliography: pages 223-243

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award



Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Gabrielle Hodge 2013.






1 online resources (243 pages)

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