Monday, July 5, 2010

It's Right on the Tip of My Finger

I remember learning American Sign Language in high school and being amazed at how complex it is. Any language is difficult to learn, with its own rules, but American Sign Language is something tricky. Remembering the shape of the sign, the movement of the hands, the orientation of the hands and how the hands move seemed so much harder than just saying a word.

At the same time, even spoken language can be tricky. We all know the feeling of knowing a word, having it right on the tip of our tongue, and not being able to just come out with it. That is because the meaning (or semantics) of a word is separate from its actual word (the phonology).

So I was unsurprised to read this blog post from Psyblog about this. The post concerns a scientific study published in Psychological Science that confirms the phenomenon is not just limited to spoken languages. People who speak a signed language can be certain they know a sign but be unable to actually do it. According to the study, "[s]pecifically, signers were more likely to retrieve a target sign's handshape, location, and orientation than to retrieve its movement. Signers also frequently recalled the first letter of a finger-spelled word."

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