The effect of sign iconicity in the mental lexicon of hearing non-signers and proficient signers: evidence of cross-modal priming

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  • City University London


The present study investigated the priming effect of iconic signs in the mental lexicon of hearing adults. Non-signers and proficient British Sign Language (BSL) users took part in a cross-modal lexical decision task. The results indicate that iconic signs activated semantically related words in non-signers' lexicon. Activation occurred regardless of the type of referent because signs depicting actions and perceptual features of an object yielded the same response times. The pattern of activation was different in proficient signers because only action signs led to cross-modal activation. We suggest that non-signers process iconicity in signs in the same way as they do gestures, but after acquiring a sign language, there is a shift in the mechanisms used to process iconic manual structures.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-585
Number of pages12
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number5
Early online date9 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • sign language, second language acquisition, education