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The great ASL compound hoax

Abstract

In many descriptions of ASL, signs like SISTER and TOMATO are analyzed as compounds. These are signs which were once created through the concatenation of two separate signs, but whose constituent parts have since fused together to form a single, opaque sign. I suggest that many of these well-known examples are not compounds at all, in a synchronic sense. Because the earliest analyses of compounding defined compounds according to primarily phonological and diachronic criteria, subsequent studies of compounding have been unnecessarily restricted. Presenting examples collected primarily from ASL videos on public YouTube channels, I argue that true examples of compounding in ASL are constructions like NAME SIGN and DEAF COMMUNITY, which contain two identifiable signs.

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