Date of Award

January 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Albert Bickford


Very little has been written about Ethiopian Sign Language, but the language has obvious

differences from more well-studied signed languages. This thesis focuses on striking differences

in reference tracking: looking at all the different referring types—lexical items, points, eye gaze,

body shift, agreement, and zero reference—and their distribution throughout narrative texts.

Through this process, Ethiopian Sign Language has proved different from expectations based on

previously studied signed languages. This language uses loci with much more flexibility,

depending on role shift alone to strongly establish loci for entities. Another way this language

differs from other languages is its lack of entity classifiers. Research here also shows an intense

dependence on local roles of entities. Entities that would typically be labeled as “main entities”

or “props” in a global role are better analyzed at the local role level. When discourses are

analyzed on a local role level, they meet expectations rather than upset them—fitting nicely with

expectations for saliency marking. Body shift (versus role shift) is the referring type while role

shift is simply a way to shift perspective—a framework within which reference tracking is