Dietmar Zaefferer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit√§t M√ľnchen

A unified representation format for spoken and sign language texts

Dietmar Zaefferer, University of Munich

Over the last decade the Munich CRG (Cross-linguistic Reference Grammar) project team has been developing a database application for unified descriptions of natural languages of any kind including sign languages. The core of the application is an XML-based client-server-DBMS called Systematics that implements a class system of linguistic phenomena as a kind of Be-Have-tree. The present paper is about the format of those database entries that exemplify the described phenomena. Being designed to optimize fine-grained language comparison it distinguishes up to twelve different levels, six for the signifier or perceivable shape (above) and six for the signified or inferrable content (below).

+6 audio or video recording
+5 phonetic transcription
+4 higher-level suprasegmentals
+3 autosegment representation
+2 phonological segment and syllable representation
+1 morphophonemic representation
-1 morpheme gloss with GRAMMATICAL and _lexical_ components
-2 higher morphological structure
-3 syntactic structure
-4 meaning structure
-5 literal translation
-6 free translation

Whereas it seems plausible that the negative levels are valid for all modalities, examples of written language have a far simpler signifier structure. But how about sign languages? The paper argues that signed signifiers can be represented with exactly the same six levels and it discusses the ways the levels have to be interpreted in this case. An example with parallel texts (i.e. with identical level -6) will show the differences and the commonalities between the spoken and the signed modality.