The road to language learning is iconic
Languages are highly complex systems and yet most children seem to acquire language easily, even in the absence of formal instruction. New research on young children's use of British Sign Language (BSL) sheds light on one of the mechanisms - iconicity - that may endow children with this amazing ability.
For spoken and written language, the arbitrary relationship between a word's form – how it sounds or how it looks on paper – and its meaning is a particularly challenging feature of language acquisition. But one of the first things people notice about sign languages is that signs often represent aspects of meaning in their form. For example, in BSL the sign EAT involves bringing the hand to the mouth just as you would if you were bringing food to the mouth to eat it.
In fact, a high proportion of signs across the world's sign languages are similarly iconic, connecting human experience to linguistic form.
Robin Thompson and colleagues David Vison, Bencie Woll, and Gabriella Vigliocco at the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London in the United Kingdom wanted to examine whether this kind of iconicity might provide a key to understanding how children come to link words to their meaning.
Their findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The researchers looked at data from 31 deaf children who were being raised in deaf BSL signing families in the United Kingdom. Parents indicated the number of words understood and produced by their children between the ages of 8 and 30 months. The researchers decided to focus on 89 specific signs, examining children's familiarity with the signs as well as the iconicity and complexity of the signs.
The findings reveal that younger (11-20 months) and older (21-30 months) children comprehended and produced more BSL signs that were iconic than those that were less iconic. And the benefit of iconicity seemed to be greater for the older children. Importantly, this relationship did not seem to depend on how familiar, complex or concrete the words were.
Together, these findings suggest that iconicity could play an important role in language acquisition.
Thompson and colleagues hypothesize that iconic links between our perceptual-motor experience of the world and the form of a sign may provide an imitation-based mechanism that supports early sign acquisition. These iconic links highlight motor and perceptual similarity between actions and signs such as DRINK, which is produced by tipping a curved hand to the mouth and represents the action of holding a cup and drinking from it.
The researchers emphasize that these results can also be applied to spoken languages, in which gestures, tone of voice, inflection, and face-to-face communication can help make the link between words and their meanings less arbitrary.
"We suggest that iconicity provides scaffolding – a middle-ground – to bridge the "great divide" between linguistic form and bodily experience for both sign language and spoken language learners," says Thompson.
Journal reference: Psychological Science
Provided by Association for Psychological Science
- Sign languages help us understand the nature of metaphors Dec 10, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Early exposure to language for deaf children Jun 05, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Deaf children use hands to invent own way of communicating Feb 15, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Sign language speakers' hands, mouths operate separately Aug 23, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Sign language communication supported with new app Sep 05, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
There is a link between use of anabolic-androgenic steroids and reduced mental health later in life. This is the main conclusion of a new study on elite male strength athletes that researchers from the University of Gothenburg ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Bullying because of perceived sexual orientation is prevalent among school-aged youths, according to a study led by Donald Patrick, professor of health services at the UW School of Public ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 2 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Patients with the most severe and dangerous form of chronic anorexia are more likely to make a significant improvement towards recovery and stay in therapy if traditional psychological treatments are re-focused ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Patients with treatment-resistant major depression saw dramatic improvement in their illness after treatment with ketamine, an anesthetic, according to the largest ketamine clinical trial to-date led by researchers from the ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 19, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (6) | 1 |
A new study conducted by researchers at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center found men diagnosed as children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were twice as likely to be obese in a 33-year ...
4 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A new computer model could help scientists predict when a particular strain of avian influenza might become infectious from bird to human, according to a report to be published in the International Journal Data Mining an ...
32 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have mapped the significance of heredity for common forms of atherosclerotic disease. No studies have previously examined whether different forms of the disease share heredity.
29 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
It is impossible to predict the evolution of China's human H7N9 bird flu outbreak as researchers are still trying to understand the source of human transmission, the head of the World Health Organisation said Monday.
12 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Federal health regulators say an experimental insomnia drug from Merck can help patients fall asleep, but it also carries worrisome side effects, including daytime drowsiness and suicidal thinking.
25 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Women are less likely than men to receive care in a trauma center after severe injury, according to a new study of almost 100,000 Canadian patients.
7 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0