Modality-Independent Effects of Phonological Neighborhood Structure on Initial L2 Sign Language Learning
Newman, Sharlene D.
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The goal of the present study was to characterize how neighborhood structure in sign language influences lexical sign acquisition in order to extend our understanding of how the lexicon influences lexical acquisition in both sign and spoken languages. A referent-matching lexical sign learning paradigm was administered to a group of 29 hearing sign language learners in order to create a sign lexicon. The lexicon was constructed based on exposures to signs that resided in either sparse or dense handshape and location neighborhoods. The results of the current study indicated that during the creation of the lexicon signs that resided in sparse neighborhoods were learned better than signs that resided in dense neighborhoods. This pattern of results is similar to what is seen in child first language acquisition of spoken language. Therefore, despite differences in child first language and adult second language acquisition, these results contribute to a growing body of literature that implicates the phonological features that structure of the lexicon is influential in initial stages of lexical acquisition for both spoken and sign languages. This is the first study that uses an innovated lexicon-construction methodology to explore interactions between phonology and the lexicon in L2 acquisition of sign language.