Philippe Schlenker (Special Talk @ 10am)

Super Monsters: Role Shift and Context Shift Revisited

Philippe Schlenker (Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; New York University)

In sign language 'Role Shift', the signer can adopt another person's perspective to report a propositional attitude (henceforth 'Attitude Role Shift') or an action (henceforth 'Action Role Shift', often called 'Constructed Action'); this is overtly marked by various means, such as a rotation of the signer's body and/or eyegaze shift. This operation can be analyzed as an overt instantiation of the mechanism of 'context shift' postulated for attitude reports in some spoken languages (Schlenker 2003, Anand and Nevins 2004, Quer 2005). In the theory of indexicals, operators that 'shift the context' are called 'monsters'. We argue that Role Shift is a more powerful 'monster' than its spoken language monsters: first, it can appear outside of attitude reports; second, it has a strong iconic and quotational component that has not been described for spoken language monsters.

For Attitude Role Shift, we argue that the our analysis brings new light to the typology of context-shifting operations: while some sign languages make it possible to 'mix perspectives' under Role Shift (Quer 2005), we argue that ASL and LSF obey Anand and Nevins's constraint that indexicals should 'shift together'. Still, in ASL and LSF, data from Attitude Role Shift alone cannot fully exclude an alternative analysis based on quotation without context shift. By contrast, Action Role Shift, which has no known counterpart in spoken language, is not amenable to a quotational analysis because it is used to describe actions that don't involve any speech- or thought-acts. 
In the first part of the presentation, we develop a context-shifting analysis that applies both to Attitude and to Action Role Shift.  
In the second part of the presentation, we argue that Role Shift has two properties that require a special treatment. First, Attitude Role Shift  has a quotational component which does not follow from a simple context-shifting analysis. Second, Action Role Shift has a strong iconic component:  properties of signs that can be assigned to the reported situation (e.g. a happy face) must be so interpreted. 
We argue that both varieties of Role Shift should be analyzed as context shift, but with an important addition:  expressions that appear under Role Shift should be interpreted maximally iconically, i.e. so as to maximize the possibilities of projection between the signs used and the situation they make reference to. This accounts both for the quotational character of Attitude Role Shift (in this case, maximal iconicity reduces to quotation), and for the fact that Action Role Shift has a strong iconic component. Finally, this analysis vindicates the view that some expressions may be simultaneously used and mentioned/demonstrated, as argued for instance in Recanati 2001.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 - 10:00am - 11:30am
IRCS conference room, 3401 Walnut, 4th floor