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Poster B62, Thursday, August 16, 3:05 – 4:50 pm, Room 2000AB

Single-parameter phonological priming in American Sign Language: An ERP study

Natasja Massa1, Gabriela Meade1,2, Brittany Lee1,2, Katherine J. Midgley1, Phillip J. Holcomb1, Karen Emmorey1;1San Diego State University, 2University of California, San Diego

In spoken language, phonology refers to the individual sounds that make up words. In sign language, phonology refers to visual-manual parameters, including handshape and location. Here, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate how phonological relatedness influences the processing of signs in American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf signers and hearing non-signers viewed prime-target pairs of ASL signs that were phonologically related or unrelated. The phonologically related pairs were in one of two conditions: handshape-only overlap (e.g., LOUSY-ROOSTER; both signs produced with a 3-handshape) or location-only overlap (e.g., COLOR-WHO; both signs produced on the chin). ERPs were recorded and time-locked to target video onset. Participants pressed a button when both signs within the pair were identical (14% of trials, not analyzed). Our analyses centered around the N400 as previous studies on spoken language have found phonological priming effects within that window: spoken target words (e.g., cake) elicit smaller amplitude N400s following phonologically related prime words (e.g., take-cake) compared to targets following unrelated prime words (e.g., lost-cake). Similarly, we found N400 priming effects in the same direction with ASL prime-target pairs in the deaf signers. Moreover, for deaf signers, handshape priming was significantly larger and more widespread compared to location priming. This result suggests that deaf signers are more attuned to handshape than location, which is likely due to its linguistic importance. In contrast to location, handshape is processed categorically by signers (Emmorey, McCullough, & Brentari, 2010), which may lead to stronger phonological priming effects during lexical access. In the hearing non-signers, we found small priming effects for both handshape overlap and location overlap that were not significantly different in size. However, these effects occurred substantially later than the N400 window (600-800ms). We conclude that the priming we see in the deaf signers arises during lexical access and is phonologically driven (handshape having a special status in their linguistic system), while the priming we see in the hearing non-signers is likely due to perceptual as opposed to linguistic mechanisms.

Topic Area: Signed Language and Gesture