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New paper in Psychological Science: Sign and Speech Influence Each Other in Bimodal Bilinguals

Date of news: 19 March 2021

In the recently published Psychological Science paper “A Tale of Two Modalities: Sign and Speech Influence Each Other in Bimodal Bilinguals”, Francie Manhardt, Susanne Brouwer, & Asli Özyürek assessed hearing bimodal bilinguals who are hearing individuals fluent in a sign and a spoken language. The authors asked whether two languages can influence each other in such individuals despite differences in the visual (sign) and vocal (speech) modalities of expression. They investigated cross-linguistic influences on bimodal bilinguals’ expression of spatial relations. Unlike spoken languages, sign uses iconic linguistic forms that resemble physical features of objects in a spatial relation and thus expresses specific semantic information. For the study, hearing bimodal bilinguals fluent in Dutch and Sign Language of the Netherlands and their hearing nonsigning and deaf signing peers were recruited and asked to describe left/right relations between two objects.


Results showed that bimodal bilinguals expressed more specific information about physical features of objects in speech than nonsigners, showing influence from sign language. They also used fewer iconic signs with specific semantic information than deaf signers, demonstrating influence from speech. The authors conclude that these results suggest that bimodal bilinguals’ speech and signs are shaped by two languages from different modalities.

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