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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00374


  • 1Linköping University, Sweden
  • 2University College London, United Kingdom
  • 3University of Crete, Greece
  • 4Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Institut für Philosophie II, Germany
  • 5University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 6University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Sign languages are natural languages in the visual domain. Because they lack a written form, they provide a sharper tool than spoken languages for investigating lexicality effects which may be confounded by orthographic processing. In a previous study, we showed that the neural networks supporting phoneme monitoring in deaf British Sign Language users are modulated by phonology but not lexicality or iconicity. In the present study we investigated whether this pattern generalizes to deaf Swedish Sign Language users. British and Swedish Sign Languages have a largely overlapping phoneme inventory but are mutually unintelligible because lexical overlap is small. This is important because it means that even when signs lexicalized in British Sign Language are unintelligible to users of Swedish Sign Language they are usually still phonologically acceptable. During fMRI scanning, deaf users of the two different sign languages monitored signs that were lexicalized in either one or both of those languages for phonologically contrastive elements. Neural activation patterns relating to different linguistic levels of processing were similar across SLs; in particular, we found no effect of lexicality, supporting the notion that apparent lexicality effects on sublexical processing of speech may be driven by orthographic strategies. As expected, we found an effect of phonology but not iconicity. Further, there was a difference in neural activation between the two groups in a motion-processing region of the left occipital cortex, possibly driven by cultural differences, such as education. Importantly, this difference was not modulated by the linguistic characteristics of the material, underscoring the robustness of the neural activation patterns relating to different linguistic levels of processing.

Keywords: sign language, lexicality, Iconicity, semantics, phonology, language processing

Received: 27 Dec 2018; Accepted: 03 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Rudner, Orfanidou, Kästner, Cardin, Capek, Woll and Rönnberg. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Mary Rudner, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden,