Nordic Journal of Linguistics

Research Article

Clausal Structure and a Tier for Grammatical Marking in American Sign Language

Debra Aaronsa1, Benjamin Bahana1, Judy Kegla2 and Carol Neidlea2

a1 Debra Aarons, Benjamin Bahan, and Carol Neidle, Program in Applied Linguistics, Boston University, 718 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215,,,

a2 Judy Kegl, Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, 197 University Avenue, Newark, NJ 07102,


Grammatical information in ASL can systematically be marked on the face. Such nonmanual marking extends over the c-command domain of the trigger, and therefore provides information about the hierarchical organization of the language. Consistent with evidence available from the distribution of non-manual markings—as illustrated with respect to wh-marking and negation—a basic clausal structure for ASL is proposed. Furthermore, we suggest, contrary to generally accepted claims about ASL, that both Tense and Agreement are structurally present in all ASL main clauses. This analysis allows for a uniform account of the licensing of null subjects in ASL. Evidence in favor of this analysis, and against a dual licensing mechanism (as proposed in Kegl, 1985, and Lillo-Martin, 1986, 1991b), is presented.