Study Reveals New Clue to Sign Language08/30/10
MONDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Although people move their
mouths when they communicate in sign language, scientists have
debated whether the lip movements were part of signing or whether
they're connected directly to spoken language.
A group of British researchers would choose the latter: In a new
study, they found that when people use British Sign Language, their
hand and lip movements are guided by separate parts of the brain
and are not part of the same sign.
The study included both deaf and hearing sign language users who
sat in front of a monitor with a video camera. In one session, they
were shown sets of pictures and asked to sign the name of each
item. In another session, they were shown those words in English
and asked to translate them into British Sign Language. The plan
was to show the pictures so rapidly that the individuals would make
some mistakes -- the types that would help show how language was
When they analyzed the videos, the researchers found there were
many cases in which a person's hands and mouth appeared to be doing
If a participant was looking at pictures and made an error, the
hands and mouth would usually make the same mistake -- for example,
signing and mouthing "banana" when the picture was an apple.
However, when the participants were translating words, the hands
made the same kinds of mistakes but the mouths didn't, which
suggests that lip movement isn't part of the sign.
"In essence, they're doing the same thing as reading an English word aloud without pronouncing it. So they seem to be processing two languages at the same time," study author David P. Vinson, of University College London, said in an Association for Psychological Science news release.
British Sign Language, which developed naturally and is
mentioned in historical records as far back as 1576, is a separate
language from both English and American Sign Language. Most people
who use British Sign Language are bilingual in spoken English.
Mouthing English words may help deaf people develop literacy in
English, Vinson explained.
The study appears in the current issue of the journal
The British Deaf Association has more about
British Sign Language.
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