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Dr Calle Börstell, postdoctoral researcher at Radboud University, is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar. He will talk about 'Grammaticalization of differential object marking (DOM) across sign languages'.

Detail Summary
Date 24 May 2019
Time 16:15 - 17:30

Grammaticalization of differential object marking (DOM) across sign languages

Carl Börstell
Radboud University Nijmegen

Differential object marking (DOM) is a well-known phenomenon among spoken languages (Bossong 1985), but only rarely discussed for signed languages (e.g., Pfau et al. 2018; Bross 2018). Perhaps this is due to the fact that sign languages are sometimes claimed to lack argument marking (cf. Gil 2014), yet many sign languages exhibit several devices for reference tracking and argument disambiguation. 

In this talk, I will show examples from a cross-linguistic sample of some 30 sign languages that demonstrate how object marking is a prevalent property among these languages, some of which show clear parallels to DOM (Börstell 2017; 2019). Such examples include animacy/prominence effects on word order and verbal modification, but also more clear-cut cases such as dedicated object pronouns/markers used exclusively with [+human] objects. Here, the sign PERSON is particularly interesting since it has grammaticalized into various functions associated with marking [+human] arguments across sign languages (cf. Pfau & Steinbach 2016), seemingly independently from each other. I will describe the grammaticalization of PERSON from noun to object pronoun in Swedish Sign Language, mirroring similar development and use in Israeli Sign Language (cf. Meir 2003). As such, I argue that sign languages should be accounted for in typological work on DOM.



Börstell, Carl. 2017. Object marking in the signed modality: Verbal and nominal strategies in Swedish Sign Language and other sign languages. Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University dissertation.

Börstell, Carl. 2019. Differential object marking in sign languages. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 4(1), 3. DOI: 

Bossong, Georg. 1985. Differentielle Objektmarkierung in den Neuiranischen Sprache. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Bross, Fabian. 2018. Differential object marking in German Sign Language: Animacy and definiteness as cross-linguistically stable cognitive concepts. Presentation at the VIII International Symposium on Intercultural, Cognitive and Social Pragmatics. Universidad de Sevilla

Gil, David. 2014. Sign languages, creoles, and the development of predication. In Frederick J. Newmeyer & Laurel B. Preston (eds.), Measuring grammatical complexity, 37–64. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meir, Irit. 2003. Grammaticalization and modality: The emergence of a case-marked pronoun in Israeli Sign Language. Journal of Linguistics 39(1). 109–140. DOI:

Pfau, Roland & Markus Steinbach. 2013. PERSON climbing up a tree: (and other adventures in sign language grammaticalization). Sign Language & Linguistics 16(2). 189–220. DOI: 

Pfau, Roland, Martin Salzmann & Markus Steinbach. 2018. The syntax of sign language agreement: Common ingredients, but unusual recipe. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 3(1). 107. DOI:

Personal page Calle Börstell

Location: PCH, room 5.02

P.C. Hoofthuis
P.C. Hoofthuis

Spuistraat 134
1012 VB Amsterdam

About the ACLC seminar series

The ACLC seminar series is a two weekly lecture series organized by the ACLC, research school for linguistics of the Faculty of Humanities.