Markus Steinbach (University of Göttingen – MTA NYTI)

Grammaticalization of Agreement in German Sign Language



The sign language phenomenon that some scholars refer to as ‘agreement’ has triggered controversial discussions among (sign language) linguists. Crucially, it has been argued to display properties that are at odds with the notion of agreement in spoken languages. A thorough theoretical investigation of the phenomenon may thus add to our understanding of the nature and limits of agreement in natural language. In this talk, I focus on the development of so-called agreement markers found in many different sign languages. I argue that agreement markers provide evidence that sign language agreement is consistently syntactic. In addition, I illustrate that the grammaticalization of agreement markers can be accounted for by means of syntactic and semantic mechanisms that have been independently argued for in spoken language.