Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


The primary focus of this paper is to examine whether sign languages organize their locative expressions similarly to spoken languages. Paving the way in the study of spatial relations by focusing on the structuring of ON and IN locatives in spoken languages, Bowerman and colleagues (Bowerman 1980; Melissa Bowerman & Eric Pederson 1992a; Bowerman 1993; 1994; 1996a; 1996b; Bowerman & Levinson 2001) found that spoken languages organize the locative phrases representing the relationships of ON and IN in a continuum which is called the ON-IN continuum.

This thesis shows that sign languages do not linguistically pattern similarly to spoken languages along the ON-IN continuum. One reason for this could be the vast difference in modality between signed and spoken languages. Essentially, locative constructions in sign languages contain visual representations which resemble real world spatial relationships, while spoken languages tend to use arbitrary locative constructions which do not resemble real world spatial relationships.

Locative constructions in sign languages are created by combining representations of ground and figure in various ways. Ground and figure can be represented sequentially or simultaneously by classifiers or lexical items or a combination of the two. In the discourse leading up to a locative construction a noun representing ground is generally introduced first followed by a noun representing the figure. Adpositions can also be used in locative phrases but this was the option least chosen in my data.