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Information structure insights from sign language anaphora

Kathryn Davidson, Harvard University

December 6, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 1-S-5 Green Hall

Program in Linguistics

Notions of topic and focus have been well-studied in sign languages, which – like many spoken languages –  tend to have word orders highly influenced by information structural considerations, along with perhaps some modality-specific considerations provided by suprasegmental nonmanuals, the tight integration of iconic gestures into the grammatical structure, etc. The use of signing space/”loci” for anaphora is often considered to be another modality-specific feature, bearing on questions about semantic analyses of anaphora generally and how anaphoricity relates to other notions like definiteness, givenness, and contrast. This talk will provide both experimental and theoretical arguments for how the use of sign language anaphora relates to information structure in sign languages and, by extension, some existing questions in spoken languages regarding the relationship between anaphoricity and information structure.



Kathryn Davidson (BA University of Pennsylvania, PhD University of California, San Diego) is a Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University, where she directs the Meaning and Modality lab and is a member of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior program. She previously had postdoctoral positions at the University of Connecticut and Yale University. Her research interests include formal semantics and pragmatics, language acquisition, and experimental semantics/pragmatics and connections between semantics and cognitive science, and she frequently asks questions from the perspective of language in the visual modality, both full sign languages like ASL as well as the visual/gestural aspects of spoken languages.

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