How the Hands Cue the Mind: The Effects of Iconicity and Enactment on Sign Language Acquisition


Iconicity is a powerful cue to symbolic meaning. However, it is unclear from previous research whether language learners benefit from iconicity. Prior research indicates that the motor system supports language acquisition, suggesting that iconicity expressed via this modality may be particularly salient. The present study investigates the effects of iconicity and enactment on the acquisition of American Sign Language by hearing adults. The results reveal that enactment enhances sign learning in general, but fail to show that iconic signs are learned more effectively than non-iconic signs. As such, they indicate that the motor system—but not iconicity—plays a key role in sign language acquisition.

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