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Acta Psychol (Amst). 2000 Dec;105(2-3):237-54.

The cognitive neuroscience of signed language.

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  • 1Department of Behavioral Sciences, Linköping University, Swedish Institute for Disability Research, Linköping and Orebro Universities, Sweden.


The present article is an assessment of the current state of knowledge in the field of cognitive neuroscience of signed language. Reviewed lesion data show that the left hemisphere is dominant for perception and production of signed language in aphasics, in a fashion similar to spoken language aphasia. Several neuropsychological dissociations support this claim: Non-linguistic visuospatial functions can be dissociated from spatial functions and general motor deficits can be dissociated from execution of signs. Reviewed imaging data corroborate the lesion data in that the importance of the left hemisphere is re-confirmed. The data also establish the role of the right hemisphere in signed language processing. Alternative hypotheses regarding what aspects of signed language processing are handled by the right hemisphere are currently tested. The second section of the paper starts by addressing the role that early acquisition of signed and spoken language play for the neurofunctional activation patterns in the brain. Compensatory cognitive and communicative enhancements have also been documented as a function of early sign language use, suggesting an interesting interaction between language and cognition. Recent behavioural data on sign processing in working memory--a cognitive system important for language perception and production suggest e.g. phonological loop effects analogous to those obtained for speech processing. Neuroimaging studies will have to address this potential communality.

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