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The proceedings will be published by Springer under the Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) series.


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Keynote: Karen Emmorey

The linguistic and neural ramifications of spatial iconicity in sign languages

Karen Emmorey, San Diego State University

Signed languages differ dramatically from spoken languages with respect to how spatial information is encoded linguistically. Rather than using closed-class prepositions or affixes, many signed languages encode location and motion information via classifier constructions, in which the handshape represents an object of a specific type (e.g., long and thin; vehicle) and the location and movement of the hands in signing space iconically depict the location and movement of the object. For spoken languages, neither sound nor movements of the tongue can easily be used to create motivated representations of location or motion, whereas for signed languages, the movement and location of the two hands are directly observable and can be readily used to create non-arbitrary, iconic linguistic representations of visual-spatial information. In this talk, I will discuss the linguistic and neural consequences of this unique system in American Sign Language (ASL). Both behavioral and neuroimaging data indicate that ASL classifier handshapes are categorical lexical morphemes that are retrieved via left hemisphere language regions, but the location and movement of the hands in signing space constitute gradient non-lexical gestures that engage bilateral superior parietal cortex. In addition, the use of physical space to represent location information impacts the nature of perspective choice and the cognitive processes required to interpret spatial descriptions. Overall, these studies indicate that the biologically-based iconicity found in signed language alters the linguistic structure and neural substrate for spatial language.

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