||Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language
Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Volume 19
The meaning of any linguistic expression resides not only in the words, but also in the ways that those words are conveyed. In her new study, Miako N. P. Rankin highlights the crucial interrelatedness of form and meaning at all levels in order to consider specific types of American Sign Language (ASL) expression. In particular, Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language considers how ASL expresses non-agent focus, similar to the meaning of passive voice in English.
Rankin’s analyses of the form-meaning correspondences of ASL expressions of non-agent focus reveals an underlying pattern that can be traced across sentence and verb types. This pattern produces meanings with various levels of focus on the agent. Rankin has determined in her meticulous study that the pattern of form-meaning characteristic of non-agent focus in ASL is used prolifically in day-to-day language. The recognition of the frequency of this pattern holds implications regarding the acquisition of ASL, the development of curricula for teaching ASL, and the analysis of ASL discourse in effective interpretation.
Miako Villanueva is an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet University.