Higher sem. Biling. Julia Hofweber: Breaking into sign language


Date: Tuesday 7 March 2023

Time: 15.00 – 16.30

Location: Zoom

Higher seminar in Bilingualism. Breaking into sign language: The role of input and individual differences. Julia Hofweber (PhD), Department of Psychology at University College London (UCL) and Department of Psychology at Northeastern University London, England.

To the Zoom webinar

To date, sign languages have not received sufficient attention in research agendas. To address this gap, this study focused on implicit language learning in naturalistic circumstances. Our participants were adult speakers of British-English without prior knowledge of sign language. The target language was Swedish Sign Language (STS). Our input material was a video-recorded weather forecast in STS, following a paradigm used by Gullberg et al. (2010, 2012). We investigated the following predictors of learning: (1) properties of the input (frequency, iconicity, sign-gesture similarity) and (2) individual differences, e.g., executive functions.

Study 1: form recognition. After viewing the forecast, participants (N=93) were tested on their ability to recognise 22 target signs from the forecast. Crucially, the target signs differed in their occurrence frequency in the forecast, and in their degree of iconicity. The results revealed that target sign recognition was facilitated by both frequency and iconicity cumulatively. In contrast, individual differences did not predict recognition.

Study 2: meaning assignment. After having watched the forecast, participants (N=80) were asked to assign meaning to the 22 target signs. We explored the following predictors of meaning assignment: frequency, iconicity, transparency, sign-gesture similarity. Accuracy was most strongly contingent on iconicity and transparency, but not on sign-gesture similarity. Frequency also enhances accuracy. Qualitative analyses of responses revealed further insights into the nature of visually-motivated meaning assignment.

Our results suggest that the adult mechanism for language learning operates similarly on sign and spoken languages regarding frequency, but also exploits modality-salient properties, i.e. iconicity. Our results have clear implications for the design of multi-modal teaching materials.

Julia Hofweber, UCL

Julia Hofweber, NU London

About the Higher seminar in Research on Bilingualism