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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2010 Nov;36(6):1573-81. doi: 10.1037/a0020934.

Effects of iconicity and semantic relatedness on lexical access in american sign language.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, CA 92120, USA.


Iconicity is a property that pervades the lexicon of many sign languages, including American Sign Language (ASL). Iconic signs exhibit a motivated, nonarbitrary mapping between the form of the sign and its meaning. We investigated whether iconicity enhances semantic priming effects for ASL and whether iconic signs are recognized more quickly than noniconic signs are (controlling for strength of iconicity, semantic relatedness, familiarity, and imageability). Twenty deaf signers made lexical decisions to the 2nd item of a prime-target pair. Iconic target signs were preceded by prime signs that were (a) iconic and semantically related, (b) noniconic and semantically related, or (c) semantically unrelated. In addition, a set of noniconic target signs was preceded by semantically unrelated primes. Significant facilitation was observed for target signs when they were preceded by semantically related primes. However, iconicity did not increase the priming effect (e.g., the target sign PIANO was primed equally by the iconic sign GUITAR and the noniconic sign MUSIC). In addition, iconic signs were not recognized faster or more accurately than were noniconic signs. These results confirm the existence of semantic priming for sign language and suggest that iconicity does not play a robust role in online lexical processing.

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