Speakers’ gestures predict the meaning and perception of iconicity in signs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Cologne
  • Radboud University


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


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsG. Gunzelmann, A. Howe, T. Tenbrink
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jul 201729 Jul 2017


Conference39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
Abbreviated titleCogSci 2017
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • sign language, second language acquisition, Iconicity in language