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  Iconicity in signed and spoken vocabulary: A comparison between American Sign Language, British Sign Language, English, and Spanish

Perlman, M., Little, H., Thompson, B., & Thompson, R. L. (2018). Iconicity in signed and spoken vocabulary: A comparison between American Sign Language, British Sign Language, English, and Spanish. Frontiers in Psychology, 9: 1433. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01433.

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© 2018 Perlman, Little, Thompson and Thompson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms




Perlman, Marcus1, Author           
Little, Hannah2, Author           
Thompson, Bill3, Author           
Thompson, Robin L.4, Author
1Department of English Language and Applied Linguistic, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, ou_persistent22              
2Department of Applied Sciences, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, ou_persistent22              
3Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society, ou_792548              
4School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, ou_persistent22              


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 Abstract: Considerable evidence now shows that all languages, signed and spoken, exhibit a significant amount of iconicity. We examined how the visual-gestural modality of signed languages facilitates iconicity for different kinds of lexical meanings compared to the auditory-vocal modality of spoken languages. We used iconicity ratings of hundreds of signs and words to compare iconicity across the vocabularies of two signed languages – American Sign Language and British Sign Language, and two spoken languages – English and Spanish. We examined (1) the correlation in iconicity ratings between the languages; (2) the relationship between iconicity and an array of semantic variables (ratings of concreteness, sensory experience, imageability, perceptual strength of vision, audition, touch, smell and taste); (3) how iconicity varies between broad lexical classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, grammatical words and adverbs); and (4) between more specific semantic categories (e.g., manual actions, clothes, colors). The results show several notable patterns that characterize how iconicity is spread across the four vocabularies. There were significant correlations in the iconicity ratings between the four languages, including English with ASL, BSL, and Spanish. The highest correlation was between ASL and BSL, suggesting iconicity may be more transparent in signs than words. In each language, iconicity was distributed according to the semantic variables in ways that reflect the semiotic affordances of the modality (e.g., more concrete meanings more iconic in signs, not words; more auditory meanings more iconic in words, not signs; more tactile meanings more iconic in both signs and words). Analysis of the 220 meanings with ratings in all four languages further showed characteristic patterns of iconicity across broad and specific semantic domains, including those that distinguished between signed and spoken languages (e.g., verbs more iconic in ASL, BSL, and English, but not Spanish; manual actions especially iconic in ASL and BSL; adjectives more iconic in English and Spanish; color words especially low in iconicity in ASL and BSL). These findings provide the first quantitative account of how iconicity is spread across the lexicons of signed languages in comparison to spoken languages


 Dates: 2018-07-232018-08-14
 Publication Status: Published online
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01433
 Degree: -



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Title: Frontiers in Psychology
  Abbreviation : Front Psychol
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: Pully, Switzerland : Frontiers Research Foundation
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 9 Sequence Number: 1433 Start / End Page: - Identifier: ISSN: 1664-1078
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/1664-1078