The relation between working memory and language comprehension in signers and speakers
Giezen, Marcel R.
Petrich, Jennifer A.F.
O'Grady Farnady, Lucinda
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Karen Emmorey, Marcel R. Giezen, Jennifer A.F. Petrich, Erin Spurgeon, Lucinda O'Grady Farnady, The relation between working memory and language comprehension in signers and speakers, In Acta Psychologica, Volume 177, 2017, Pages 69-77, ISSN 0001-6918, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2017.04.014.
This study investigated the relation between linguistic and spatial working memory (WM) resources and language comprehension for signed compared to spoken language. Sign languages are both linguistic and visualspatial, and therefore provide a unique window on modality-specific versus modality-independent contributions of WM resources to language processing. Deaf users of American Sign Language (ASL), hearing monolingual English speakers, and hearing ASL-English bilinguals completed several spatial and linguistic serial recall tasks. Additionally, their comprehension of spatial and non-spatial information in ASL and spoken English narratives was assessed. Results from the linguistic serial recall tasks revealed that the often reported advantage for speakers on linguistic short-term memory tasks does not extend to complex WM tasks with a serial recall component. For English, linguistic WM predicted retention of non-spatial information, and both linguistic and spatial WM predicted retention of spatial information. For ASL, spatial WM predicted retention of spatial (but not non-spatial) information, and linguistic WM did not predict retention of either spatial or non-spatial information. Overall, our findings argue against strong assumptions of independent domain-specific subsystems for the storage and processing of linguistic and spatial information and furthermore suggest a less important role for serial encoding in signed than spoken language comprehension.