The discussion in the first part of this paper has made clear that sign language typology is a fairly new research field and that typological classifications have yet to be established. For spoken languages, these classifications are generally based on typological parameters; for sign languages, it would thus be desirable to establish classifications following similar criteria. Based on the research described in this paper, we suggest two classifications with respect to morphosyntactic parameters. The first one is the continuum of verb agreement. At the one extreme, we would find sign languages in which all verbs take agreement (as yet unattested). At the other extreme, we would find sign languages that show no verb agreement at all (also unattested). The second classification concerns a continuum based on the use of entity classifiers in sign languages. On the one hand, we find sign languages that make abundant use of entity classifier constructions; on the other hand, we find sign languages that make no use of such constructions.
In order to locate Inuit Sign Language on these two suggested continua, we investigated verb agreement and classifiers. The results indicate that IUR makes use of a moderate amount of verb agreement. Its position on the verb agreement continuum would thus be toward the side representing a low amount of agreement. As for the entity classifier continuum, IUR can be placed toward the side representing a high amount of entity classifiers. For both aspects, IUR would not be placed at the extreme sides of the continua.
Of course, the significance of each continuum would be best understood if many sign languages were studied in detail in order to allow for more fine-grained analysis. We could represent the continua schematically in a two-dimensional schema, as suggested in Figure 5, where some of the sign languages mentioned in this paper have been placed in the positions at which we understand them to belong.
If we follow the analysis suggested by Zwitserlood (2003) and Zwitserlood and Van Gijn (2007), this diagram would basically represent the agreement system of sign languages, as they take classifiers to be instantiations of gender agreement, and the aforementioned verb agreement to be locus agreement.
Sign language typology is a young field within sign language linguistic research. As more sign languages are being described, more cross-linguistic data on typologically interesting aspects are becoming available. Eventually, this will lead to more typological classifications, which will certainly enrich the field of sign language (and spoken language) typology. For example, it could be worthwhile to study frames of reference employed in different sign languages (see Levinson (2003) for spoken languages). Since our aim was to propose a typology based on morphosyntactic parameters, frame of reference fell outside the scope of this paper. Still, since we came across this issue in our analysis of verb agreement in IUR, we believe that frames of reference could be an interesting aspect to be included in future typological classifications of sign languages.
Universiteit van Amsterdam
Department of General Linguistics
1012 VT Amsterdam