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Auteur: Philippe SCHLENKER

Anaphora: Insights from Sign Language

Abstract/Résumé: Sign language anaphora is realized very differently from its spoken language counterpart. In simple cases, an antecedent is associated with a 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 an overt realization of the device of coindexation in formal syntax and semantics. Summarizing some of our recent work, we discuss two kinds of insights that sign language research can for this reason 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. We argue that the iconic component of sign language loci is a case in point; in the end, we suggest that loci may be simultaneously formal variables and simplified depictions of what they denote – which requires the construction of a formal semantics with iconicity to analyze their properties.