Syntax of relativization in Russian Sign Language: Basic features

2020. №6, 48-65

Evgeniya A. Khristoforova @, a, b
Vadim I. Kimmelman a, c
a Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia;
b Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands;
c Universitetet i Bergen, Bergen, Norway;


This paper provides a fi rst syntactic description of relativization in Russian Sign Language (RSL). We collected production data from nine signers performing a picture-based task. The signers produced 88 instances of relative constructions with the head noun being the subject or direct object in the main clause and in the relative clause. We found that RSL has head-external (postnominal) relative clauses, head-internal relative clauses, and double-headed relative clauses. Relative clauses might also be extraposed to the sentence-final position or fronted. The main clause may be doubled, so that a part of it is repeated after the relative clause. Relative clauses might contain optional relative elements WHICH and INDEX, in clause-initial or clause-final position, or in both positions, and the two elements can co-occur. Finally, we found that relative clauses are nearly always prosodically separate from the main clause. The most frequent non-manual markers in relative construction are eye blinks; in addition, head leans and turns, eyebrow raise, and squints are sometimes used. However, no marker is specialized for marking the relative clause itself: they either are simply markers of boundaries of prosodic units (eye blinks), or they have some other functions (which we cannot fully identify yet). We conclude that RSL generally fits patterns found in other spoken and signed languages. However, we also observe specifi c differences, especially in the domain of non-manual marking.

For citation:

Khristoforova E. A., Kimmelman V. I. Syntax of relativization in Russian Sign Language: Basic features. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2020, 6: 48–65.


This research was supported by the Russian Science Foundation grant No. 17-18-01184.