Gesture-sign interface in hearing non-signers' first exposure to sign

Natural sign languages and gestures are complex communicative systems that allow the incorporation of features of a referent into their structure. They differ, however, in that signs are more conventionalised because they consist of meaningless phonological parameters. There is some evidence that despite non-signers finding iconic signs more memorable they can have more difficulty at articulating their exact phonological components. In the present study, hearing non-signers took part in a sign repetition task in which they had to imitate as accurately as possible a set of iconic and arbitrary signs. Their renditions showed that iconic signs were articulated significantly less accurately than arbitrary signs. Participants were recalled six months later to take part in a sign generation task. In this task, participants were shown the English translation of the iconic signs they imitated six months prior. For each word, participants were asked to generate a sign (i.e., an iconic gesture). The handshapes produced in the sign repetition and sign generation tasks were compared to detect instances in which both renditions presented the same configuration. There was a significant correlation between articulation accuracy in the sign repetition task and handshape overlap. These results suggest some form of gestural interference in the production of iconic signs by hearing non-signers. We also suggest that in some instances non-signers may deploy their own conventionalised gesture when producing some iconic signs. These findings are interpreted as evidence that non-signers process iconic signs as gestures and that in production, only when sign and gesture have overlapping features will they be capable of producing the phonological components of signs accurately.
Publication type
Proceedings paper
Publication date
2013

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