Bleached Taboo-Term Predicates In American Sign Language

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Others have noticed that taboo terms in spoken language present unusual morphological and syntactic behavior. In this paper we examine a number of predicates in American Sign Language that have recently been formed from what were, historically, taboo-terms, as well as one more recently coined mildly taboo-term, and we show that they, likewise, behave in unusual ways morphologically and syntactically. We look at conversion from noun to verb that restricts the movement of the resultant verb to that typically associated with continuative aspect, at a non-presentational predicate that takes a sentential subject, at a verb that agrees with something properly within its sentential object, at a verb that takes an adverbial clause following it, and at a verb string that involves neither conjoining nor embedding. Thus, while taboo terms have been severely understudied in sign languages, their analysis offers new insights on linguistic structure. We suggest that the (historical) taboo nature of these terms makes them susceptible to innovation, particularly among adolescent males.