Deaf Stroke Research

Williams Research | ASL Research
Psycholinguistic Studies | Language & Cognition | Summary
Stroke | Aphasia | Sign Aphasia Tests

Linguistic Studies of American Sign Language

Because the vast majority of what we know about human language comes from the study of spoken languages, increased knowledge of signed languages help us to determine whether linguistic properties are shaped by the auditory nature of speech perception or the modality of transmission (i.e. the vocal tract vs. the hands). Our research has focused a unique aspect on sign language expression: the linguistic use of physical space. "Classifier" predicates are universal to signed languages, and in these constructions, handshape specifies object type, and the position of the hands in signing space schematically represents the spatial relations between objects. In contrast, spoken languages tend to express spatial information through adpositions, adverbs, and the lexical semantics of different verbs. Our research program investigates the ramifications of these distinct linguistic properties for a) the nature of human linguistic systems and b) the relation between language and spatial cognition.


Summary of the Impact of Sign Language Use on Visuospatial Cognition


Affected Domains
Unaffected Domains
  • Mental rotation and image generation
  • Face discrimination and processing of facial features
  • Motion categorization and parsing
  • Memory for spatial locations
  • Visuo-constructive abilities
  • Face recognition and gestalt face processing
  • Motion Detection thresholds
  • Memory for visual images


Because signed languages rely on visual-spatial cognitive processes, they provide a unique tool for investigating the relation between linguistic and non-linguistic domains of cognition.

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