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When do people start to recognize signs?

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The aim of this paper is to examine when signers start to recognize the lexical meaning of a sign. This is studied with movies of 32 mono-morphemic signs of Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN). Signs were presented in isolation or with preceding fidgets (e.g., rubbing your nose). Signers watched these movies at normal playing speed and had to respond as soon as they recognized a sign, which they were able to do, on average, about 850 ms after the coded beginning of the sign. By subtracting the time participants need to generate a motor response to a visible event, which was 310 ms on average, sign recognition was estimated to occur after around 540 ms. The results were further analyzed in relation to the sign's movement phases (preparation, nucleus, and recovery) and for effects of participant characteristics, sign characteristics, and embedding conditions. The current findings are compared with earlier work on the time course of lexical sign recognition. Moreover, they are compared with findings from an earlier experiment on detecting the beginning of a sign (Arendsen et al., 2007) to study possible interference of lexical recognition with sign detection by signers.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2009

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