Sign languages stand out in that there is high prevalence of
conventionalised linguistic forms that map directly to their
referent (i.e., iconic). Hearing adults show low performance
when asked to guess the meaning of iconic signs suggesting
that their iconic features are largely inaccessible to them.
However, it has not been investigated whether speakers’
gestures, which also share the property of iconicity, may
assist non-signers in guessing the meaning of signs. Results
from a pantomime generation task (Study 1) show that
speakers’ gestures exhibit a high degree of systematicity, and
share different degrees of form overlap with signs (full,
partial, and no overlap). Study 2 shows that signs with full
and partial overlap are more accurately guessed and are
assigned higher iconicity ratings than signs with no overlap.
Deaf and hearing adults converge in their iconic depictions
for some concepts due to the shared conceptual knowledge
and manual-visual modality.