Profiles

Carl Börstell

Carl Börstell

Vikarierande universitetslektor

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Works at Department of Linguistics
Email calle@ling.su.se
Visiting address Universitetsvägen 10 C, plan 2-3
Room C 358
Postal address Institutionen för lingvistik 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Associate Professor (sub)

Home Department: Department of Linguistics

 

Teaching

During the fall semester of 2020, I am the main teacher for the MA course Language in Use (LIM006) and I also teach parts of several courses on Swedish Sign Language.

Research

My general interests include sign language, typology, grammaticalization, morphology, negation and multimodality.

Some of the projects I have worked on include the iconicity and metaphors across sign languages and gesture, as well as word classes, word order, and syntactic functions in different sign languages.

Publications

A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2017. Irit Meir (et al.). Cognition 158, 189-207

    This study identifies a central factor that gives rise to the different word orders found in the world’s languages. In the last decade, a new window on this long-standing question has been provided by data from young sign languages and invented gesture systems. Previous work has assumed that word order in both invented gesture systems and young sign languages is driven by the need to encode the semantic/syntactic roles of the verb’s arguments. Based on the responses of six groups of participants, three groups of hearing participants who invented a gestural system on the spot, and three groups of signers of relatively young sign languages, we identify a major factor in determining word order in the production of utterances in novel and young communication systems, not suggested by previous accounts, namely the salience of the arguments in terms of their human/animacy properties: human arguments are introduced before inanimate arguments (‘human first’). This conclusion is based on the difference in word order patterns found between responses to depicted simple events that vary as to whether both subject and object are human or whether the subject is human and the object inanimate. We argue that these differential patterns can be accounted for uniformly by the ‘human first’ principle. Our analysis accounts for the prevalence of SOV order in clauses with an inanimate object in all groups (replicating results of previous separate studies of deaf signers and hearing gesturers) and the prevalence of both SOV and OSV in clauses with a human object elicited from the three groups of participants who have the least interference from another linguistic system (nonliterate deaf signers who have had little or no exposure to another language). It also provides an explanation for the basic status of SOV order suggested by other studies, as well as the scarcity of the OSV order in languages of the world, despite its appearance in novel communication systems. The broadest implication of this study is that the basic cognitive distinction between humans and inanimate entities is a crucial factor in setting the wheels of word ordering in motion.

  • 2017. Carl Börstell (et al.).

    In this dissertation, I investigate various aspects of object marking and how these manifest themselves in the signed modality. The main focus is on Swedish Sign Language (SSL), the national sign language of Sweden, which is the topic of investigation in all five studies. Two of the studies adopt a comparative perspective, including other sign languages as well. The studies comprise a range of data, including corpus data, elicited production, and acceptability judgments, and combine quantitative and qualitative methods in the analyses.

    The dissertation begins with an overview of the topics of valency, argument structure, and object marking, primarily from a spoken language perspective. Here, the interactions between semantics and morphosyntax are presented from a typological perspective, introducing differential object marking as a key concept. With regard to signed language, object marking is discussed in terms of both verbal and nominal strategies.

    Verbal strategies of object marking among sign languages include directional verbs, object handshape classifiers, and embodied perspective in signing. The first study investigates the use of directionality and object handshapes as object marking strategies in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL), Israeli Sign Language (ISL), and SSL. It is shown that the strategies generally display different alignments in terms of the types of objects targeted, which is uniform across languages, but that directionality is much more marginal in ABSL than in the other two languages. Also, we see that there is a connection between object marking strategies and the animacy of the object, and that the strategies, object animacy, and word order preferences interact. In the second and third studies, SSL is investigated with regard to the transitive–reflexive distinction. Here, we see that there are interactional effects between object handshapes and the perspective taken by the signer. This points to intricate iconic motivations of combining and structuring complex verb sequences, such as giving preference to agent focusing structures (e.g., agent perspective and handling handshapes). Furthermore, the use of space is identified as a crucial strategy for reference tracking, especially when expressing semantically transitive events.

    Nominal strategies include object pronouns and derivations of the sign PERSON. The fourth study provides a detailed account of the object pronoun OBJPRO in SSL, which is the first in-depth description of this sign. It is found that the sign is in widespread use in SSL, often corresponds closely to object pronouns of spoken Swedish, and is argued to be grammaticalized from the lexical sign PERSON. In the final study, the possible existence of object pronouns in other sign languages is investigated by using a sample of 24 languages. This analysis reveals that the feature is found mostly in the Nordic countries, suggesting areal contact phenomena. However, the study also shows that there are a number of derivations of PERSON, such as reflexive pronouns, agreement auxiliaries, and case markers. The use of PERSON as a source of grammaticalization for these functions is attributed to both semantic and phonological properties of the sign.

    This dissertation is unique in that it is dedicated to the topic of object marking in the signed modality. It brings a variety of perspectives and methods together in order to investigate the domain of object marking, cross-linguistically and cross-modally.

  • 2017. Carl Börstell. SKY Journal of Linguistics 30, 7-34

    This paper investigates the domain of name signs (i.e., signs used as personal names) in the Swedish Sign Language (SSL) community. The data are based on responses from an online questionnaire, in which Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing participants answered questions about the nature of their name signs. The collected questionnaire data comprise 737 name signs, distributed across five main types and 24 subtypes of name signs, following the categorization of previous work on SSL. Signs are grouped according to sociolinguistic variables such as age, gender, and identity (e.g., Deaf or hearing), as well as the relationship between name giver and named (e.g., family or friends). The results show that name signs are assigned at different ages between the groups, such that children of Deaf parents are named earlier than other groups, and that Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are normally named during their school years. It is found that the distribution of name sign types is significantly different between females and males, with females more often having signs denoting physical appearance, whereas males have signs related to personality/behavior. Furthermore, it is shown that the distribution of sign types has changed over time, with appearance signs losing ground to personality/behavior signs – most clearly for Deaf females. Finally, there is a marginally significant difference in the distribution of sign types based on whether or not the name giver was Deaf. The study is the first to investigate name signs and naming customs in the SSL community statistically – synchronically and diachronically – and one of the few to do so for any sign language.

  • 2016. Carl Börstell, Ryan Lepic, Gal Belsitzman. Lingvisticæ investigationes 39 (2), 391-407

    Sign languages make use of paired articulators (the two hands), hence manual signs may be either one- or two-handed. Although two-handedness has previously been regarded a purely formal feature, studies have argued morphologically two-handed forms are associated with some types of inflectional plurality. Moreover, recent studies across sign languages have demonstrated that even lexically two-handed signs share certain semantic properties. In this study, we investigate lexically plural concepts in ten different sign languages, distributed across five sign language families, and demonstrate that such concepts are preferentially represented with two-handed forms, across all the languages in our sample. We argue that this is because the signed modality with its paired articulators enables the languages to iconically represent conceptually plural meanings.

Show all publications by Carl Börstell at Stockholm University

Last updated: September 16, 2020

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