Recent research on signed as well as spoken language shows that the iconic features of the target language might play a role in language development. Here, we ask further whether different types of iconic depictions modulate children’s preferences for certain types of sign-referent links during vocabulary development in sign language. Results from a picture description task indicate that lexical signs with 2 possible variants are used in different proportions by deaf signers from different age groups. While preschool and school-age children favored variants representing actions associated with their referent (e.g., a writing hand for the sign PEN), adults preferred variants representing the perceptual features of those objects (e.g., upward index finger representing a thin, elongated object for the sign PEN). Deaf parents interacting with their children, however, used action- and perceptual-based variants in equal proportion and favored action variants more than adults signing to other adults. We propose that when children are confronted with 2 variants for the same concept, they initially prefer action-based variants because they give them the opportunity to link a linguistic label to familiar schemas linked to their action/motor experiences. Our results echo findings showing a bias for action-based depictions in the development of iconic co-speech gestures suggesting a modality bias for such representations during development.
- sign language
- Language development