Area 5. Syntax


Syntax is the part of grammar that studies the way signs are combined to form larger units, such as phrases and sentences. Phrases are formed by combining signs, and sentences are formed by combining phrases. The syntactic rules describe the correct order in which to combine signs and phrases. For example, in Spanish sign language (LSE) the negative particle NOT follows the verb (Chapa, 2001, p. 284; Moriyón Mojica et al., 2004, p.55; Rodríguez González, 1992, p. 299).

Ungrammatical sentences are indicated by an asterisk * preceding them, as in (1).

(2) I DRIVE NOT (I don´t drive)

Syntax studies agreement in addition to sign order. Different constituents in the same environment agree to share some properties. For instance, the verb READ might agree with the object in LSE. As a result, the sign READ is oriented towards the space related to what is read (Herrero Blanco, 2005), as in example (3).

(3) MAN POSTER(left) READ"oriented to the left, towards the space associated with the poster"(The man reads the poster)

According to their function, sentences can be declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory. Declaratives are very frequent and are used to affirm or deny something. They are employed to inform, describe, or explain. Declaratives can be constructed with one sentence (= simple sentence) or more than one sentence (= complex sentence). Declaratives are usually built with subject and predicate and the order of these constituents in LSE varies (Morales López et al., 2012).

Example (4) is a declarative sentence.

(4) YOU PEAR EAT (You eat pears)

Interrogatives are used to ask for something or to express a doubt. In LSE we can ask questions expecting a yes/no answer, offering answer alternatives, or expecting a specific content. In the latter case (content interrogatives) ,we can use interrogative signs, which normally take the final position (Báez Montero & Cabeza Pereiro, 2002).

(5) CHEESE LIKE YOU (Do you like cheese?)

(6) YOU COME CAR(left) BUS (right) (Have you come by car or by bus?)

(7) TV BREAK HOW (How the tv broke down?)

Example (5) is a yes/no interrogative. (6) is an alternative interrogative. (7) is a content interrogative.

With Imperative sentences, the signer demands a certain behavior from the interlocutor. In addition to giving commands, imperative sentences are also used to invite, give instructions, give advice, etc. Some non-manual markers may be used in imperative sentences. For example, in LSE half-closed eyes mark suggestions (Herrero Blanco, 2009, pp. 92-93), as in (8).

      (eyes half-closed)
(8) CALM (Stay calm)

Exclamatives express an emotional reaction, such as surprise or astonishment. Again, non-manual markers are very important. In LSE, to express astonishment we open our eyes widely (Herrero Blanco, 2009, p. 70), as in (9).

                 (eyes wide)
(9) CAR INCREDIBLE (What a car!)

In GramLSE syntax section, we will go into more detail about negative sentences, the structure of sentences, the order of constituents, coordination and subordination, and other topics.

Villameriel García, S. (2023). Syntax: 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