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New paper in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition: Word order preference in sign influences speech in hearing bimodal bilinguals but not vice versa: Evidence from behavior and eye-gaze by Francie Manhard, Susanne Brouwer, Eveline van Wijk, and Aslı Özyüre

Date of news: 30 May 2022

In the present study, authors investigated whether and how cross-linguistic influence occurs in hearing bimodal bilinguals (hearing people who are fluent in a spoken and a signed language) by focusing on word order in spatial expressions.


When it comes to spatial expressions, sign languages, unlike spoken languages, exhibit a modality-driven word order preference regarding the mention of grounds and figures. Namely, in sign languages, grounds are mentioned prior to figures. Authors were interested whether they could observe a bi-directional cross-linguistic influence, from sign to speech and form speech to signs, in hearing bimodal bilinguals when encoding spatial expressions. To address this, authors compared hearing bimodal bilinguals’ spatial expressions and visual attention in Dutch and Dutch Sign Language (N = 18) to spatial expressions of hearing non-signers (N = 20) and deaf signers. The comparisons were done at the level of visual attention by looking at eye-gaze during message preparation - a visual world language production eye-tracking paradigm. Results reveled that hearing bimodal bilinguals were influenced by sign language in their speech but not vice-versa. Namely, in speech they expressed more ground-first descriptions and fixated grounds more than hearing non-signers. In turn, in sign their encodings regarding the ground-first descriptions as well as ground fixations were comparable to deaf signers. Thus, the study revealed that cross-linguistic influence can occur across linguistic modalities and that influence of word order regarding spatial expressions in hearing bimodal bilinguals is modality-specific and one-directional.

Curious to learn more? You can find the paper (open access) here.