The road to language learning is not entirely iconic: Iconicity, neighborhood density, and frequency facilitate sign language acquisition
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CitationCaselli, N. & Pyers, J. "The road to language learning is not entirely iconic: Iconicity, neighborhood density, and frequency facilitate sign language acquisition" Psychological Science, forthcoming.
Iconic mappings between words and their meanings are far more prevalent than once estimated, and seem to support children’s acquisition of new words, spoken or signed. We asked whether iconicity’s prevalence in sign language overshadows other factors known to support spoken vocabulary development, including neighborhood density (the number of lexical items phonologically similar to the target), and lexical frequency. Using mixed-effects logistic regressions, we reanalyzed 58 parental reports of native-signing deaf children’s American Sign Language (ASL) productive acquisition of 332 signs (Anderson & Reilly, 2002), and found that iconicity, neighborhood density, and lexical frequency independently facilitated vocabulary acquisition. Despite differences in iconicity and phonological structure, signing children, like children learning a spoken language, track statistical information about lexical items and their phonological properties and leverage them to expand their vocabulary.