Sign Language Prosody

Wendy Sandler, Diane Lillo-Martin, Svetlana Dachkovsky, Ronice Müller De Quadros

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Sign languages are unlike spoken languages because they are produced by a wide range of visibly perceivable articulators: The hands, the face, the head, and the body. There is as yet no consensus on the division of labour between these articulators and the linguistic elements or subsystems that they subserve. For example, certain systematic facial expressions in sign languages have been argued to be the realization of syntactic structure by some researchers and of information structure, and thus prosodic in nature, by others. This chapter brings evidence from three unrelated sign languages for the latter claim. It shows that certain non-manual markers are best understood as representing pragmatic notions related to information structure, such as accessibility, contingency, and focus, and are thus part of the prosodic system in sign languages generally. The data and argumentation serve to sharpen the distinction between prosody and syntax in language generally.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Language Prosody
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780198832232
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© editorial matter and organization Carlos Gussenhoven and Aoju Chen 2020.


  • facial expressions
  • information structure
  • perceivable articulators
  • pragmatic notions
  • prosody
  • sign languages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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