Annika Herrmann / Markus Steinbach

Nonmanuals in Sign Language. Special Issue of Sign Language & Linguistics 14.1.

Amsterdam, 2011.

Recent research on sign languages has shifted the focus of interest from the manual articulators to so-called nonmanual articulators, which express a variety of important grammatical functions. All sign languages investigated so far have a wide range of nonmanual articulators at their disposal. Nonmanuals are defined as the actions produced by parts of the body other than the hands. Typical nonmanual articulators are the upper part of the body, the head, and the face including the mouth, the cheeks, the eyes, the eyebrows, and facial expressions. These nonmanuals are usually used simultaneously with both manual and other nonmanual markers. They accompany lexical signs or may align with syntactic or prosodic phrases.
Nonmanuals play an important role at all levels of sign language grammar. They express a variety of lexical, morphosyntactic, prosodic, semantic, and pragmatic functions such as attributive, adverbial, and aspectual modification, negation, sentence types, reported speech, constructed action, and information structuring. Nonmanuals have two interesting properties: They are multifunctional and they can be layered with both manual and other nonmanual markers. One specific nonmanual marker may express various grammatical functions and vice versa. This multifunctionality seems to be an inherent property of all kinds of nonmanuals. In addition, simultaneous layering of different articulatory channels exhibits a complex interplay between manuals and nonmanuals on the one hand and between different kinds of nonmanuals on the other.
The articles of this special discuss various formal and functional properties of nonmanuals in different sign languages from different perspectives. This special issue is a collection of original papers on empirical, theoretical, experimental, and applied aspects of nonmanuals and it contributes findings and arguments that will foster future studies and discussions. All of the articles are based on presentations given at the conference ‘Nonmanuals in Sign Languages (NISL)’, held in April 2009 at the University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.