Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


Much of the research on discourse in sign languages thus far has been carried out on American Sign Language. With this thesis, I add to the current research by comparing what is known about participant reference in American Sign Language with Colombian Sign Language.

This thesis analyzes six separate stories totaling 72 minutes, signed by 5 different native signers of Colombian Sign Language. ELAN (a computer software for annotation) was used to mark all of the referring terms in the subject position and categorize the terms by type (nominal reference, pronominal reference, zero-anaphor, and classifier) and by function (introduction, reintroduction and maintained reference). The numbers were then tallied up for each type of referring expression in each function category to see the general trends of usage for each type of referring term in different situations. This research was modeled on the work done by Frederiksen and Mayberry (2016) so that the data may be compared to the data collected on referring terms in American Sign Language.

It was found that zero-anaphor references are used for entities with the highest accessibility (high accessibility means entities that have been recently mentioned or are thematically important to the narrative) and nominal references are used for entities with the lowest accessibility (meaning entities that are backgrounded, new to the narrative, or not mentioned for a while in a particular part of the narrative). The differing usage of referring terms in accordance with accessibility of the referent is different in some areas in Colombian Sign Language when compared with American Sign Language. In Colombian Sign Language, zero-anaphor reference is used for entities with the highest accessibility (most highlighted); whereas in American Sign Language, entity classifiers are used in those situations.

Another finding was that zero-anaphor reference in Colombian Sign Language occurs almost exclusively in the context of constructed action.