Polish Sign Language (PJM) is the language of the Deaf in Poland. It represents the class of visual-spatial languages. They satisfy the structural definition of natural languages as semiotic systems that have grammar and lexicon and are used for universal communication. PJM is the mother tongue for a subset of deaf Poles: the so-called dynastic deaf. It is acquired in the process of natural acquisition. A majority of the population learn PJM as the second language. PJM is a natural rather than cultural phenomenon. It was developed in the Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Warsaw after 1817 based on individual endemic languages. PJM has been subject of studies at the University of Warsaw for two decades.
This paper constitutes a discussion with Piotr Tomaszewski’s work Constraints on Negative Prefixation in Polish Sign Language, where he claims that morphological negation marker taking the form of circular movement of the wrist preceding positive signs is a prefix subject to several grammatical constrains. As part of a large-scale project aiming to examine negation markers in PJM, we conduct a study similar to the one proposed by Tomaszewski. We rely our research on the linguistic material available in the PJM corpus that is being currently compiled by the Section for Sign Linguistics at the University of Warsaw. We investigate videos showing more than a dozen of native PJM signers using their language in natural communicational situations. We find most Tomaszewski’s conclusions and findings accurate. However, we cannot agree with all of the proposed constraints on the negation morpheme. We argue that the morpheme in question is used more freely by the PJM users than Tomaszewski is willing to admit.
The paper discusses kinship terms in the contemporary Polish Sign Language (PJM) against a broader typological perspective of kinship terms in spoken and sign languages. The study is partly based on the Corpus-based Dictionary of Polish Sign Language and partly on raw data from the Polish Sign Language Corpus. Particular attention is paid to polysemy of PJM kinship terms and the influence of spoken Polish on both the signifiers and the signifiants of PJM signs. The former is illustrated by initialised signs and mouthing, while the latter by semantic extensions of signs that mirror derivational phenomena in spoken Polish. For example the sign ‘sibling’ refers only to ‘brother’s wife’ and not to ‘husband’s sister’, and, although sign language kin terms tend not to be marked for gender, it does not mean ‘brother-in-law’. The reason for such a semantic restriction is that it extends only to senses covered by a spoken Polish term derived from ‘brat’ (‘brother’), i.e. ‘bratowa’ (lit. ‘of brother’), and not to senses covered by the loanword ‘szwagier’ (‘brother-in-law’) and ‘szwagierka’ (‘husband’s sister’). The corpus-based part of the study has revealed that the preferred method of disambiguating signs is through mouthing rather than using compound forms.