The road to language learning is iconic: evidence from British Sign Language

Robin L Thompson, David P Vinson, Bencie Woll, Gabriella Vigliocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


An arbitrary link between linguistic form and meaning is generally considered a universal feature of language. However, iconic (i.e., nonarbitrary) mappings between properties of meaning and features of linguistic form are also widely present across languages, especially signed languages. Although recent research has shown a role for sign iconicity in language processing, research on the role of iconicity in sign-language development has been mixed. In this article, we present clear evidence that iconicity plays a role in sign-language acquisition for both the comprehension and production of signs. Signed languages were taken as a starting point because they tend to encode a higher degree of iconic form-meaning mappings in their lexicons than spoken languages do, but our findings are more broadly applicable: Specifically, we hypothesize that iconicity is fundamental to all languages (signed and spoken) and that it serves to bridge the gap between linguistic form and human experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443-8
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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