Area 6. Semantics


Semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistic expressions, focusing on their literal meaning outside of context. Discursive units whose meaning depends on context are studied at the pragmatic level.

The morphology, lexicon, and syntax sections of GramLSE describe the form of semantic concepts. Therefore, the semantics section complements those sections by providing their function.

Some of the contents addressed in semantics, as well as in other levels of linguistic analysis, are tense, modality, classifiers, and subordinate clauses.

Tense locates a situation with respect to the moment of the actual context of utterance.

(1) YESTERDAY I COURSE ENROLL (Yesterday I enrolled in the course).

In (1) the time referred to in the sentence is the day before the actual context of utterance.

Modality is related to the signer's attitude towards the content being signed. The term modality in sign language research usually refers to the channels of perception and production of the language, that is, the visual-gestural modality. However, in this section, modality refers to something different. Modality here is the way of expressing needs, desires, intentions, obligations, etc. Two types of modality are distinguished: epistemic and deontic. In epistemic modality, the signer expresses their confidence in the truth of what they signs. Deontic modality indicates the obligatoriness or necessity of what they sign. In Spanish Sign Language (LSE), modality can be manifested in various ways: with verbs (e.g. CAN) or with other expressions (such as MAYBE) and with non-manual markers, as in (2)

       Mouth corners down
       Negative headshake

(2) SMOKING            (No smoking allowed)

In (2), taken from Herrero Blanco (2009, p. 86), the different non-manual markers that appear in parentheses are used simultaneously and express both impossibility (epistemic modality) and prohibition (deontic modality).

In the morphology section, we address classifiers. Semantics explores the contribution of classifiers to the creation of meaning. Classifiers inherit the semantic properties of their antecedent. Thus, manual configuration65.pngmay refer to an entity that stands out in two dimensions (length and width) like a TABLE, PAPER, BOOK, DOOR, etc. (Chapa, 2001; Morales López et al., 2002).

Semantics also addresses the meaning of subordinate clauses. In (3), taken from Herrero Blanco (2009, p. 341), there is a temporal adverbial clause.

(3) I STORE GO, CLOSED (When I went to the store, it was closed)

The upward arrow indicates that the head is raised, the eyes are opened, and the eyebrows are raised. The temporal clause in (3) expresses a temporal relationship of simultaneity with respect to the main clause.

In addition to time, modality, classifiers, and subordinate clauses, the semantics section of GramLSE will describe contents related to argument structure, comparison, quantification, etc.

Villameriel García, S. (2023). Semantics: Introduction. In S. Villameriel García (Ed.), Gramática de la Lengua de Signos Española (GramLSE) / Grammar of Spanish Sign Language (GramLSE). Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY, from