The relation between working memory and language comprehension in signers and speakers

Karen Emmorey, Marcel R. Giezen, Jennifer A.F. Petrich, Erin Spurgeon, Lucinda O'Grady Farnady
2017 Acta Psychologica  
Highlights  Serial recall advantage for speakers is limited to linguistic short-term memory tasks  Signers rely less strongly on serial encoding in language processing than speakers  Speakers and signers engage spatial WM resources when processing spatial language  Signers do not show advantages in visual-spatial WM regardless of hearing status WORKING MEMORY AND LANGUAGE COMPREHENSION 3 Abstract This study investigated the relation between linguistic and spatial working memory (WM)
more » ... s and language comprehension for signed compared to spoken language. Sign languages are both linguistic and visual-spatial, 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.
doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2017.04.014 pmid:28477456 pmcid:PMC5495138 fatcat:3afdod2uunhgdd66glsaxgaa2y