Qualifying Examination Paper
Analyzability of Five Compounds:
Analyzability of Five Compounds: FACE^STRONG, FACE^SAME, GIRL^FRIEND,
SISTER, and THINK^OPPOSITE
The question of whether compound signs are analyzable or not is a
complex one. There is even some question as to whether the word
'compound' is an appropriate term to use for ASL compounds. ASL compounds
also behave like portmanteaus within their first parts (Liddell
1984:390). An example of a portmanteau is 'smog', composed from 'smoke'
and 'fog'. Many factors need to be taken into consideration to determine
how to define and analyze compounds. The most fundamental factor is how
to apply the definition of analyzability as it is defined in the
linguistic field. The accepted definition for analyzability in the
linguistic field is as follows:
"A word is analysable if the linguist can perceive in it some regular
correlations between meaning and form, and segment the word accordingly.
The correlations may or may not be perceived by the native speaker, and
may or may not be widely generalized or particularly productive" (Bauer
Other factors that relate to the definition of analyzability or spin
off of analyzability in linguistic research are iconicity versus
arbitrariness, generalizability, historical change, and productivity.
These factors may very well be the causes of differing degrees of
analyzability within a variety of compound signs.
In the main body of this paper, I will be focusing on five compound
signs in terms of their analyzability and related factors, especially
historical change. These five compound signs are FACE^STRONG, FACE^SAME,
GIRL^FRIEND, SISTER, and THINK^OPPOSITE. Most of the time, the glosses
represent the original signs that the compound signs were supposedly
created from. SISTER is one exception. SISTER could be glossed as
GIRL^SAME (Liddell & Johnson 1986:480). In addition, FACE^SAME could be
glossed as FACE^ALIKE (Liddell & Johnson 1986:448). I will use GIRL^SAME
and FACE^ALIKE for the rest of the paper to facilitate the discussion.
Iconicity Versus Arbitrariness
According to Klima and Bellugi (1979:202), the opposite of arbitrary
is iconicity. How arbitrary a form is means how removed the form is from
the meaning. There are many different forms of iconicity within
languages (Matthews 1991:223-245). One focus of this paper is iconicity
within the lexicon, compounds in particular. In the linguistic field, at
least in the past, the ultimate goal of a fully functional lexicon was
arbitrariness, or complete and absolute abstractedness of a form from its
meaning (Matthews 1991:225). For example, a morpheme is considered to be
a 'phonological form with an arbitrarily paired meaning' (Liddell &
Johnson 1986:497). But iconicity may be a key to understanding how
compounds and morphemes fit together. The words 'compound' and
'morpheme' should include iconicity as part of their definitions. The
claim that the two parts of a compound are morphemes would still be
supported (Liddell & Johnson 1986:498).
Iconicity in this case may be how closely the source signs are
related to their respective compounds as to the form or meaning of the
compounds. For example, in analyzing the following compounds, iconicity
is how apparent the relationship is between the two parts of the compound
and the actual meaning of the compound. FACE^STRONG is not readily
apparent as to its meaning, 'resemble'. FACE^ALIKE is also not readily
apparent as to its meaning, 'to look like'. GIRL^FRIEND is obvious as to
what the meaning is from the two parts of the compound sign. GIRL^SAME
is almost as readily apparent as GIRL^FRIEND as to its meaning at least to
a native English speaker fluent in ASL. An native ASL person may think
that GIRL^SAME is just as readily apparent as GIRL^FRIEND. THINK^OPPOSITE
may be just as readily apparent as GIRL^SAME with the same conditions.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of variation with regard to degrees
of iconicity within these five compounds. These five compound signs are
analyzed more completely and in more detail with regard to their form and
meaning below. Differences between the source signs and the final form of
the compounds will be explained later in the paper.
Form and Meaning of the Five Compound Signs
FACE^STRONG does not use the circling motion of the sign FACE in the
first part of its compound form. Rather a facial contact with the index
finger of the strong hand is used instead. This first part of the
compound sign could be considered a reduction in the diameter of the
circle traced by the index finger in the sign FACE. The diameter could
have been shrunk until it became a dot with a contact on the cheek near
the eye on the same side as the strong hand within the compound sign.
Another way to look at the same idea is that the circular motion could
have become tighter and smaller in diameter until it became a facial
contact on the cheek. See Figure 1 below.
( ( *!*) ) (( *!*)) (O*!*) (o*!*) (.*!*)
Figure 1: The circles represent paths of the index finger of the strong
hand around the face throughout time and the dot represents contact on the
Otherwise, the second part of the compound FACE^STRONG is produced
the same way as the sign STRONG, a two-handed symmetrical sign moving away
from the chest. The second part of the compound sign FACE^STRONG did not
have any reduplication. The sign STRONG used to create the second part of
the compound does not have any reduplication to begin with.
The meaning of FACE^STRONG is to physically resemble strongly some
other person, usually a parent or other relative (Liddell & Johnson
1986:487, Klima & Bellugi 1979:216). FACE^STRONG could even be considered
an idiom, except that it also fits the compound criteria, namely, that it
has two parts.
The first part of the compound sign FACE^ALIKE is also produced the
same way as the first part of the compound sign FACE^STRONG. The same
logic could be applied here as to why the difference exists between the
sign FACE and the first part of the compound sign FACE^STRONG.
The second part of the compound sign FACE^ALIKE is produced the same
way as the one-handed sign ALIKE with the 'Y' handshape moving
bi-directionally or in other words, moving side to side, first in one
direction, then in the other direction. The second part of the compound
FACE^ALIKE appears to be just like ALIKE as far as bi-directionality is
concerned. The bi-directionality in ALIKE is still preserved in the
compound sign FACE^ALIKE.
The meaning of FACE^ALIKE is 'to look like' (Liddell & Johnson
1986:487) and is used more generically than FACE^STRONG. Another
compound THINK^SAME could be confused with FACE^ALIKE because the forms
look the same. Or it is possible that the compound sign itself could have
two meanings that were glossed separately as THINK^SAME and FACE^ALIKE.
THINK^SAME means to think like another person, or in other words, to
agree with someone else's opinion.
The first part of the compound GIRL^FRIEND is just a single brush
with the thumb of the strong hand on the lower cheek near the jaw, unlike
the reduplicated form in the sign GIRL.
Again, the second part of the compound GIRL^FRIEND appears to be the
same as FRIEND. The second part is not really reduplicated because the
orientation of the hands are different, just like FRIEND is.
There may be phonological assimilation between the first part and the
second part of the compound sign GIRL^FRIEND. The thumb of the strong
hand might still stick out while the strong hand is signing the second
part of the compound sign GIRL^FRIEND.
The meaning of the compound sign GIRL^FRIEND corresponds mostly to
the English word 'girlfriend.'
The first part of the compound sign GIRL^SAME is also produced the
same way as the first part of the compound GIRL^FRIEND above. Again, the
reduplication from the sign GIRL is not preserved in the first part of
the compound sign GIRL^SAME.
Please do not confuse the one-handed sign ALIKE that has the 'Y'
handshape with the two-handed sign SAME that has the '1' handshapes
The second part in the compound sign GIRL^SAME looks like two 'L'
handshapes crossing on top of one another. This second part of the
compound sign GIRL^SAME could have originally been created from the
two-handed '1' handshape sign SAME where the two index fingers contact
each other on the radial sides, or in other words, side-by-side. The
hands do not cross within the two-handed '1' handshape sign SAME.
Within the compound sign GIRL^SAME, the index fingers snap open
during the transition from the first part of the sign to the second part
of the sign. The thumb of the strong hand remains open throughout the
compound sign as may be caused by assimilation. The thumb of the weak
hand may match the strong hand as part of weak hand anticipation.
The meaning of GIRL^SAME corresponds to the meaning of the English
The first part of the compound sign THINK^OPPOSITE is produced in
the same way as the first part of the compound sign BELIEVE in Scott
Liddell's (1984:387-390) article "THINK and BELIEVE: Sequentiality in
American Sign Language" where he focuses on compounds. The compound sign
BELIEVE could be glossed as THINK^MARRY to represent source signs. I will
use the gloss THINK^MARRY to refer to BELIEVE for the rest of the paper,
again, to facilitate the discussion. The first part of these two compound
signs THINK^OPPOSITE and THINK^MARRY begins with a facial contact on the
forehead. However, please note that the sign THINK begins with an
approach to the forehead, and then the facial contact occurs, unlike
THINK^OPPOSITE and THINK^MARRY.
Otherwise, the second part of the compound THINK^OPPOSITE is
produced the same way as the sign OPPOSITE, a two-handed symmetrical sign
moving apart from each other in free space. Again, the second part of the
compound sign THINK^OPPOSITE did not lose any reduplication. The sign
OPPOSITE used to create the second part of the compound does not have any
reduplication to begin with.
Assimilation is not as evident in THINK^OPPOSITE as it is in
THINK^MARRY because the first and second parts of the THINK^OPPOSITE
have the same handshape configurations. This is not the case with
THINK^MARRY where the second handshape was assimilated onto the first part
of the compound so that now the handshapes look alike.
The meaning of THINK^OPPOSITE corresponds to the meaning of the
English word 'disagree'.
According to Bauer (1992:251), a process can be considered
generalizable if existing forms of a language can be recognized as
resulting from this process. For example, the 'th' affix in 'dearth',
'warmth', and 'length' is not widely generalized (Bauer 1992:61,238).
Other affixes may be widely generalized even though they may not be
productive, for example, the 'ment' affix in 'chastisement',
'government', 'shipment', and 'treatment' (Bauer 1992:61).
Generalizability within compounds can certainly be seen on how the two
parts are reused in other compounds and still retain the original meaning
to some extent. The five compounds that I am focusing on in this paper
are somewhat generalizable. The first parts of FACE^STRONG and FACE^ALIKE
are generalizable with respect to each other. The first parts of
GIRL^FRIEND and GIRL^SAME are generalizable with respect to each other.
The first parts of THINK^OPPOSITE and THINK^MARRY are generalizable with
respect to each other. There is variation in how generalizable parts
within these five compounds are, but the compounding process itself is
clearly generalizable across most compounds.
All the compound signs do appear to be, at one time or other,
results of the compounding process mentioned in Liddell and Johnson's
paper "American Sign Language Compound Formation Processes,
Lexicalization, And Phonological Remnants" (1986:465,468,477). The single
sequence rule eliminates reduplications. The contacting hold rule
eliminates everything but the contact on the body or the face within the
initial sign. The weak hand anticipation rule brings the weak hand into
play during the first part of a compound that has a one-handed first part
and a two-handed second part (Klima & Bellugi 1979:217, Liddell & Johnson
The weak hand anticipation rule applies to most of the five
compounds except for FACE^ALIKE. This compound sign is the only fully
one-handed sign in the list of compound signs that I am focusing on.
There is no weak hand anticipation for FACE^ALIKE as there is for the rest
of the compound signs where the second part is two-handed and the first
part is one-handed with the weak hand already in place for the second part
(Klima & Bellugi 1979:217, Liddell & Johnson 1986:477). I will explain
whether or not the other compounding process rules affected each of the
five compound signs below, and if there are exceptions.
This compound sign FACE^STRONG is indeed a result of the compounding
process, but with a twist. There is a reduction from a circling index
finger to a contact on the cheek. This phenomena needs to be
investigated more fully to determine if it is really part of the
compounding process or not (Liddell & Johnson 1986:489-490).
This compound sign FACE^ALIKE also has the same problem as
FACE^STRONG above with regard to whether the compounding process applies
to the reduction from a circling movement to a contact.
The reduplication appears to have been dropped in the sign GIRL as
result of the single sequence rule within the compounding process to
The reduplication in GIRL appears to have been dropped in the
compound sign GIRL^SAME as a result of the single sequence rule within
the compounding process, very much like the previous compound sign
The approach to the forehead was lost as part of the compounding
process from THINK to THINK^OPPOSITE. All components except facial or
bodily contact are lost within signs that have facial or bodily contact
when used as the first part of a compound (Liddell & Johnson 1986:468).
All components except the facial contact are lost in the sign THINK as it
is incorporated into THINK^OPPOSITE through the compounding process.
This particular compounding process, the contacting hold rule, occurred as
well with THINK^MARRY. The contacting hold rule only applies to signs
with facial or bodily contact (Liddell & Johnson 1986:468).
The final compound forms that we see today in the five compounds
that I have focused on above could be caused by other factors in addition
to the compounding process, such as historical change. According to Valli
and Lucas (1995:166-168), historical change, with respect to sign
language, is defined as the process where a new variant of a particular
sign is introduced, co-exists with the original sign for a time, and then
replaces the original sign as the standard form. One example of
historical change is the tendency for signs to become less iconic and more
arbitrary through time (Klima & Bellugi 1979:78-81,210,224). With regard
to compounds, the compounding process is what starts it all, then the
compounds became established within the language, or lexicalized. Then
finally, historical change occurs. Lexicalized compounds are particularly
subject to phonological changes over time more so than other forms in ASL
(Liddell & Johnson 1986:478). Historical change occurs sometimes to the
point where the compound is not even recognizable as coming from two
separate signs that were used to create the compound in the first place.
For example the sign HOME used to be a compound sign BED and EAT (Klima &
Bellugi 1979:80). Currently, there is even a variant of HOME consisting
of repeated contact on the cheek in the same location (Klima & Bellugi
1979:80, Valli & Lucas 1995:167-168). Historical change affects only
internal features of articulary bundles of a compound sign, not entire
segments of the compound sign (Liddell & Johnson 1986:479). I will
analyze whether or not historical change affected each of the five
compounds below, and if there are any exceptions.
The compound FACE^STRONG is indeed a result of the compounding
process, but whether or not historical change is involved is not certain.
The reduction of the circling index finger in FACE to a contact on the
cheek in FACE^STRONG could be considered part of the compounding process
or a result of historical change. There is such a drastic reduction in
the circling motion to a facial contact that it could have been a result
of historical change. Granted, it could be part of a compounding process
that took place more rapidly. Liddell and Johnson (1986:489-490) think
that it may be an unexpected application of the contacting hold rule.
More research, for example, more compounds with this kind of
configuration, is needed to investigate this issue fully. If the
reduction appears consistently over more compounds, this would be a clue
that it is a part of the compounding process, and not part of historical
change. There are two compound signs that did not take on the reduction
even though they have the same kind of configuration as FACE^STRONG and
FACE^ALIKE. These signs are FACE^NEW 'stranger' and FACE^NICE 'good
looking' (Liddell & Johnson 1986:488-489). Since there are only four
compounds with this kind of configuration and a fifty-fifty chance either
explanation could be right, this issue may not be resolved easily.
Again, like FACE^STRONG above, the compound sign FACE^ALIKE is
certainly the result of the compounding process, but whether historical
change is involved is questionable for the same reason that FACE^STRONG
Historical change does not appear to be involved so far with the
compound sign GIRL^FRIEND. This may change in the future as there are
some variants of GIRL^FRIEND that are even more reduced in form than this
The compound sign GIRL^SAME is like the compound sign GIRL^FRIEND
above except that historical change is readily apparent. Historical
change appears to be the cause of the index fingers snapping open and
crossing each other. This phenomena could not be explained by the
compounding process alone. There is such a drastic change in the second
part of the compound sign GIRL^SAME from the source sign SAME (with the
two-handed '1' handshapes), that it cannot be accounted for by the
compounding process as established so far.
In addition, according to Liddell and Johnson (1986:480), GIRL^SAME
used to be produced with two different handshapes for the first and
second parts, and now the first part has the same handshape as the second
part. This feature adjustment is considered to be a diachronic change,
not a synchronic change because it is so specific to a particular sign and
unpredictable across signs in general (Liddell & Johnson 1986:481).
There does not seem to be any historical change involved in the
compound sign THINK^OPPOSITE.
Once historical changes takes effect in a compound, then the
compound is no longer analyzable as a productive compound (Liddell and
Johnson 1986:491-492). According to Bauer (1992:251), a process could be
considered productive if new forms are created within the language from
this process. Another way to look at it is that productive morphs are
all analyzable but not all analyzable morphs are productive, for example,
the 'th' affix already mentioned above. A productive compound would be
where the form allows the meaning to be derived directly from its parts
(Liddell & Johnson 1986:501). This would not be the case if a compound
has been lexicalized, or in other words, established to the point where
the entire form is necessary to understand the meaning. Then the compound
is no longer productive. There are varying degrees of productivity within
the five compounds I am focusing on.
The first parts of FACE^STRONG and FACE^ALIKE may not be productive
at all if historical change is the cause of the circling index finger
reduction to a mere contact on the cheek within these two compounds. If
the compounding process was the cause of this reduction, then it should
be a very productive process. We should see more compounds of this nature
being created within ASL.
In my opinion, the first parts of GIRL^FRIEND and GIRL^SAME would be
a very productive part for new compounds, since human and animal gender
are often indicated in many language forms as well as within compounds.
The first part of THINK^OPPOSITE would be productive as well,
because any new human activity related to thinking could be defined by
new compounds utilizing this first part. For example, technology is now
changing the world and how we do things, including how we think and
communicate (Valli & Lucas 1995:167).
In the linguistics field, standard definitions and characteristics
for compounds in English is fraught with violations when applied to
compounds in ASL (Klima & Bellugi 1979:202-216). For example, evidence
from compounds undergoing the unrealized inceptive aspectual inflection
seems to show that phonologically, the compounds still behave like a
two-part sign, even though they may appear to be fused into one as a
result of historical change (Liddell & Johnson 1986:496, Valli & Lucas
1995:167). For example, the unrealized inceptive aspectual inflection was
applied to the second part of the compounds AGREE (THINK^SAME) and
THINK^MARRY, not to the whole compound (Liddell & Johnson 1986:496).
Along the same train of thought, caution should be taken for how to apply
the definition of analyzability to compound signs as well. The
analyzability of compound signs must be taken into consideration within
the context of sign language linguistics, not just verbal language
linguistics. For example, iconicity is a major feature of sign language.
Why not, then, allow iconicity its respectful place within the definitions
of 'morpheme' and 'compound'?
Bauer, Laurie. 1992. Introducing Linguistic Morphology. paperback ed.
with corrections. Edinburgh, Great Britain: Edinburgh University Press.
Klima, Edward & Bellugi, Ursula. 1979. The Signs of Language. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
Liddell, Scott K. 1984. THINK and BELIEVE: Sequentiality in American Sign
Language. Language 60.372-399.
Liddell, Scott K. & Johnson, Robert E. 1986. American Sign Language
Compound Formation Processes, Lexicalization, and Phonological Remnants.
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 4.445-513.
Matthews, Peter Hugoe. 1991. Morphology. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Great
Britain: Cambridge University Press.
Valli, Clayton & Lucas, Ceil. 1995. Linguistics of American Sign
Language: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University