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Lang Cogn Neurosci. 2018;33(9):1092-1106. doi: 10.1080/23273798.2018.1446543. Epub 2018 Mar 7.

Phonological and semantic priming in American Sign Language: N300 and N400 effects.

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Joint Doctoral Program in Language and Communicative Disorders, San Diego State University and University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA.
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.
School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.


This study investigated the electrophysiological signatures of phonological and semantic priming in American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf signers made semantic relatedness judgments to pairs of ASL signs separated by a 1300 ms prime-target SOA. Phonologically related sign pairs shared two of three phonological parameters (handshape, location, and movement). Target signs preceded by phonologically related and semantically related prime signs elicited smaller negativities within the N300 and N400 windows than those preceded by unrelated primes. N300 effects, typically reported in studies of picture processing, are interpreted to reflect the mapping from the visual features of the signs to more abstract linguistic representations. N400 effects, consistent with rhyme priming effects in the spoken language literature, are taken to index lexico-semantic processes that appear to be largely modality independent. Together, these results highlight both the unique visual-manual nature of sign languages and the linguistic processing characteristics they share with spoken languages.


American Sign Language; ERPs; N300; N400; phonological priming; semantic priming

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