Lecture: What's in a sign?
When form features have meaning
The role of iconicity in language has recently seen an upsurge in interest. One of the unresolved issues in this debate is the integration of iconic processes into theories of linguistic structure. At what level do iconic processes act and to what kinds of linguistic processing are they relevant?
The present study aims to contribute to this debate testing whether signs are morphologically complex units that combine iconic form-meaning units in a behavioural design. Four potential units were selected for an experimental task, in which 25 native users of Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) matched Dutch words with signs from NGT and phonologically valid pseudosigns in a binary forced-choice paradigm.
The results support the view, that signs are not simply mono-morphemic, but that signers are sensitive to sub-lexical form-meaning units. At the same time, it showed that not all form-meaning unit are equally important in iconically grounding a sign’s lexical meaning. Participants also performed better on NGT signs, implying a role for lexical processing that exceeds the mere meaning potential contributed by the FMUs, which is available to signers in the interpretation of novel signs.