Signs and words

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


Natural sign languages both constrain and expand our understanding of the nature of words. In each modality, words can be used in isolation, have meanings or grammatical functions, and are identifiable by their prosodic form. Such shared properties constrain the universal definition of the word. The differences, such as pervasive simultaneity and iconicity in sign word structure and word formation, compared to linearity and arbitrariness typical of spoken words, expand our conception of what a word can be. Investigation of an emerging sign language reveals just how fundamental the word is to language, and shows how morphological complexity begins as an abstract pattern. Sign languages introduce a tension between constraining and expanding the definitive properties of words, offering a more nuanced understanding of this most basic unit of linguistic structure.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAll Things Morphology
Subtitle of host publicationIts independence and its interfaces
EditorsSedigheh Moradi, Marcia Haag, Janie Rees-Miller, Andrija Petrovic
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9789027259745
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NameCurrent Issues in Linguistic Theory
ISSN (Print)0304-0763

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language
  • Iconicity
  • Israeli Sign Language
  • Language emergence
  • Linearity
  • Morphology
  • Sign language
  • Simultaneity
  • Words

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


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