Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Language by mouth and by hand

Date:
April 3, 2013
Source:
Northeastern University College of Science
Summary:
Humans favor speech as the primary means of linguistic communication. Spoken languages are so common many think language and speech are one and the same. But the prevalence of sign languages suggests otherwise. Not only can Deaf communities generate language using manual gestures, but their languages share some of their design and neural mechanisms with spoken languages.

Humans favor speech as the primary means of linguistic communication. Spoken languages are so common many think language and speech are one and the same. But the prevalence of sign languages suggests otherwise. Not only can Deaf communities generate language using manual gestures, but their languages share some of their design and neural mechanisms with spoken languages.

New research by Northeastern University's Prof. Iris Berent further underscores the flexibility of human language and its robustness across both spoken and signed channels of communication.

In a paper published in PLOS ONE, Prof. Berent and her team show that English speakers can learn to rapidly recognize key structures of American Sign Language (ASL), despite no previous familiarity with this language.

Like spoken languages, signed languages construct words from meaningless syllables (akin to can-dy in English) and distinguish them from morphemes (meaningful units, similar to the English can-s). The research group examined whether non-signers might be able to discover this structure.

In a series of experiments, Prof. Berent and her team (Amanda Dupuis, a graduate student at Northeastern University, and Dr. Diane Brentari of the University of Chicago) asked English speakers to identify syllables in novel ASL signs. Results showed that these non-signing adults quickly learned to identify the number of signed syllables (one vs. two), and they could even distinguish syllables from morphemes.

Remarkably, however, people did not act as indiscriminate general-purpose learners. While they could easily learn to discern the structure of ASL signs, they were unable to do so when presented with signs that were equally complex, but violated the structure of ASL (as well as any known human language).

The results suggest that participants extended their linguistic knowledge from spoken language to sign language. This finding is significant because it shows that linguistic principles are abstract, and they can apply to both speech and sign. Nonetheless, Dr. Berent explains, language is also constrained, as not all linguistic principles are equally learnable. "Our present results do not establish the origin of these limitations -- whether they only result from people's past experience with English, or from more general design properties of the language system. But regardless of source, language transcends speech, as people can extend their linguistic knowledge to a new modality."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northeastern University College of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Iris Berent, Amanda Dupuis, Diane Brentari. Amodal Aspects of Linguistic Design. PLOS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e60617 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060617

Cite This Page:

Northeastern University College of Science. "Language by mouth and by hand." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130403200208.htm>.
Northeastern University College of Science. (2013, April 3). Language by mouth and by hand. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130403200208.htm
Northeastern University College of Science. "Language by mouth and by hand." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130403200208.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) More and more studies are showing positive benefits to playing video games, but the jury is still out on brain training programs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Research from Washington University suggest people with conscientious spouses have greater career success. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Researchers say certain markers in the blood can predict risk of psychosis later in the life. The test can aid in early treatment for the condition. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Harpist Soothes Gorillas, Orangutans With Music

Harpist Soothes Gorillas, Orangutans With Music

AP (Sep. 25, 2014) Teri Tacheny, a harpist, has a loyal following of fans who appreciate her soothing music. Every month, gorillas, orangutans and monkeys amble down to hear her play at the Como Park Zoo in Minnesota. (Sept. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins