Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Linda Humnick


In their work on referring expressions and cognition, Gundel et al. (1993) propose a model called the Givenness Hierarchy which suggests that there are basic referring expressions in languages which can signal the cognitive status of their referents. Supported by cross-linguistic research, the theory proposes six cognitive statuses which have forms associated with them such that if that form is used (successfully), the referent must have at least that status on the scale. In 2002, Swabey published a doctoral dissertation researching the Givenness Hierarchy for American Sign Language (ASL) in narrative texts. She compared the distribution of referring forms cross-linguistically (between ASL and English). She also proposed form-status correlations based on her research.

This study adds to Swabey’s work by analyzing referring forms and form-status correlation in ASL texts from a non-narrative genre. These non-narrative texts, found in political monologues posted to YouTube, have a variety of referents that are not necessarily present in narratives, such as ideas, speech acts, and propositions.

One of the challenges of work on referring forms in ASL is establishing the categories of these forms. In their work on reference tracking, Frederiksen & Mayberry (2016) expanded the referential categories proposed by Swabey to look at the effect of word order, fingerspelling and other referring strategies on the discourse use of referring expressions. This study adopts the categories proposed by Frederiksen and Mayberry with a few additional categories from Swabey, which are not found in Frederiksen & Mayberry (2016).

The results of this study support many of the claims made by Swabey (2002) as well as propose a revision to one form-status correlation. This study also gives the cognitive status correlations of two forms which were not mentioned in Swabey (2002). The study also furthers the descriptions of discourse usage of referring expressions in ASL. Finally, the addition of a non-narrative genre to discourse analysis of ASL texts shows that the claim by Swabey (2002), and Frederiksen & Mayberry (2016) that ASL disfavors the use of pronouns, is true for narratives, but not necessarily for other texts.