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Effects of Sign Language Brokering on Working Memory Capacity

Poster B110 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Joseph Palagano1, Lorna C. Quandt1; 1Gallaudet University

Sign Language Brokering (SLB) is a form of intercultural mediation that occurs when a bilingual-bimodal child mediates communication between two adults who are less able to communicate directly due to asymmetries in language modality (Napier, 2021; Weisskirch, 2017). For sign language brokers, translanguaging through brokering requires ample attention and memory, as SLBs must retain information spanning: languages, modalities, cultures, and emotions. Research on spoken language brokering suggests that long-term language brokering has cognitive and socio-emotional effects (i.e., increased text comprehension, higher conceptual convergence, adult-level decision-making, and better academic performance; López & Vaid, 2016; Dorner et al., 2008; McQuillan & Tse, 1995). These behavioral effects suggest underlying modifications of executive functions, such as working memory, due to distinct language experiences. Bilingualism has long been suggested to afford individuals with distinct neurocognitive adaptations, particularly within executive functions (Bialystok, 2017). However, meta-reviews have rarely found consistent effects of bilingualism on executive functions, likely due to statistical preference for broadband patterns muting the more idiosyncratic variations between bilingual individuals and sub-groups (Marian & Shook, 2012; DeLuca et al., 2019; Lehtonen et al., 2023). In our proposed study, we ask whether sign language brokering, given the cognitive demand and speed needed to maintain the natural flow of multimodal conversation, affords idiosyncratic cognitive benefits such as differential patterns in verbal and visuospatial working memory. To test this, we seek to recruit hearing children of deaf adults who have experience acting as sign language brokers (N=20) and non-brokering bilinguals (N=20) matched on language proficiency and non-verbal I.Q. We will assess their working memory capacity (WMC) by utilizing the Listening Span Task (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980) and a novel Multimodal Span Task (MST). We will build upon the traditional span task by assessing working memory capacity in the primed and target languages across modalities. During the MST, participants will be tasked with attending to consecutive sentences in either English or American Sign Language (ASL). They will be instructed to make syntactic judgments about the sentences while reporting the sentence-final word/sign translational equivalence (i.e., if the sentence is shown in English, the participant would be asked to report the signed equivalent to the final word/sign in every sentence). While performing the modified listening span task described above, we will record electroencephalography (EEG) with a 64-channel BrainVision cap positioned to fit the 10-20 system (Jasper, 1958). Our analysis will focus on frontotemporal midline regions, which are functionally associated with syntactic compositionality and language efficacy and become stronger while participants engage with high working memory demands. (Quandt & Kubicek, 2018; Pavlov & Kotchoubey, 2020; Mollica et al., 2020; Inguscio et al., 2021). We will also focus on theta and alpha oscillations within the left anterior temporal regions and right prefrontal cortical areas, which play a role in visuospatial attentional, short-term encoding, and maintenance processes (Gjini et al., 2007; Muthukrishnan et al., 2020). This process will differentiate neural correlates of WMC between sign language brokers and matched bilinguals to help detangle the role of bilingual cognitive processes in executive function development.

Topic Areas: Signed Language and Gesture, Control, Selection, and Executive Processes

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