Early studies investigating sign language acquisition claimed
that signs whose structures are motivated by the form of their
referent (iconic) are not favoured in language development.
However, recent work has shown that the first signs in deaf
children’s lexicon are iconic. In this paper we go a step
further and ask whether different types of iconicity modulate
learning sign-referent links. Results from a picture description
task indicate that children and adults used signs with two
possible variants differentially. While children signing to
adults favoured variants that map onto actions associated with
a referent (action signs), adults signing to another adult
produced variants that map onto objects’ perceptual features
(perceptual signs). Parents interacting with children used
more action variants than signers in adult-adult interactions.
These results are in line with claims that language
development is tightly linked to motor experience and that
iconicity can be a communicative strategy in parental input.