Syntactic-semantic interaction in israeli sign language verbs: The case of backwards verbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies of various sign languages have identified several classes of verbs which differ from each other on the basis of which agreement affixes can be attached to them. This paper focuses on one group of verbs, which inflect for person and number (i.e. agreement verbs, using Padden’s 1990 terminology). The paper is concerned with the question of whether the agreement affixes that attach to agreement verbs correspond to the syntactic notions of subject and object, or to the thematic notions of source and goal. It is suggested that this question can be answered only by focusing on a subset of agreement verbs, namely backwards verbs. By comparing backwards verbs to regular agreement verbs, from the points of view of their morphological, syntactic and thematic behavior, the precise nature of the agreement system is revealed: agreement verbs are morphologically marked for both syntactic and thematic agreement. This is achieved by utilizing two different phonological elements available in the language: the direction of the path movement, and the facing (as distinct from orientation) of the hands. This analysis differs from previous treatments, which have disregarded facing as an independent marking device, and have therefore failed to account fully for the facts. It is argued that only an analysis which draws a distinction between these two mechanisms is descriptively adequate and explanatory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-37
Number of pages35
JournalSign Language and Linguistics (Online)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation – Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and Israel Foundations Trustees, for the project “The Sign Language of the Deaf in Israel: a Comparative Study,” principal investigator Wendy Sandler.


  • Agreement
  • Agreement verbs
  • Backwards verbs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Syntactic-semantic interaction in israeli sign language verbs: The case of backwards verbs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this