Question and negation in Israeli Sign Language

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The paper presents the interrogative and negative constructions in Israeli Sign Language (ISL). 1oth manual and nonmanual components of these constructions are described, revealing a complex and rich system. In addition to the basic lexical terms, ISL uses various morphological devices to expand its basic question and negation vocabulary, such as compounding and suffixation. The nonmanual component consists of specific facial expressions, head and body posture, and mouthing. The use of mouthing is especially interesting, as ISL seems to use it extensively, both as a word formation device and as a grammatical marker for negation. Interrogative and negative constructions interact with other grammatical categories in the language; i.e., the distribution of various negation words is determined by the lexical category of the negated word. Thus, the distribution of negation words provides evidence for the existence of Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives as formal categories in the language. Finally, a diachronic comparison between present day ISL and earlier stages of the language reveals interesting traits in the development of these systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-124
Number of pages28
JournalSign Language and Linguistics (Online)
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partly supported by a grant from the Israeli Science ?oundation, for proj? ect ?750/?? “?rosodic structure in sign language: ?rammar of the face” to Wendy Sandler. Much of the data reported on in this study was collected as part of a crosslinguistic study of question and negation constructions in signed languages, headed by Ulrike Zeshan. I would like to thank ?oron Levy and Meir ?tdegi for providing the ISL data on which this study is based, and for insightful discussions of negation and questions in ISL. I am grateful to Wendy Sandler and Ulrike Zeshan for reading and commenting on earlier version of this paper, and for two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Illustrations are Copyright © of the Laboratory for Sign Language Research, University of Haifa, Israel.


  • Interrogative constructions
  • Israeli Sign Language
  • Mouthing
  • Negation
  • Nonmanual markers
  • Suffixation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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