The link between form and meaning in British sign language: effects of iconicity for phonological decisions

Robin L Thompson, David P Vinson, Gabriella Vigliocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Signed languages exploit the visual/gestural modality to create iconic expression across a wide range of basic conceptual structures in which the phonetic resources of the language are built up into an analogue of a mental image (Taub, 2001). Previously, we demonstrated a processing advantage when iconic properties of signs were made salient in a corresponding picture during a picture and sign matching task (Thompson, Vinson, & Vigliocco, 2009). The current study investigates the extent of iconicity effects with a phonological decision task (does the sign involve straight or curved fingers?) in which the meaning of the sign is irrelevant. The results show that iconicity is a significant predictor of response latencies and accuracy, with more iconic signs leading to slower responses and more errors. We conclude that meaning is activated automatically for highly iconic properties of a sign, and this leads to interference in making form-based decisions. Thus, the current study extends previous work by demonstrating that iconicity effects permeate the entire language system, arising automatically even when access to meaning is not needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1027
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010

Bibliographical note

(c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Comprehension
  • Deafness
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Phonetics
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time
  • Sign Language
  • Young Adult


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