Making Sense of the Hands and Mouth: The Role of "Secondary" Cues to Meaning in British Sign Language and English.Cogn Sci. 2020 Jul; 44(7):e12868.CS
Successful face-to-face communication involves multiple channels, notably hand gestures in addition to speech for spoken language, and mouth patterns in addition to manual signs for sign language. In four experiments, we assess the extent to which comprehenders of British Sign Language (BSL) and English rely, respectively, on cues from the hands and the mouth in accessing meaning. We created congruent and incongruent combinations of BSL manual signs and mouthings and English speech and gesture by video manipulation and asked participants to carry out a picture-matching task. When participants were instructed to pay attention only to the primary channel, incongruent "secondary" cues still affected performance, showing that these are reliably used for comprehension. When both cues were relevant, the languages diverged: Hand gestures continued to be used in English, but mouth movements did not in BSL. Moreover, non-fluent speakers and signers varied in the use of these cues: Gestures were found to be more important for non-native than native speakers; mouth movements were found to be less important for non-fluent signers. We discuss the results in terms of the information provided by different communicative channels, which combine to provide meaningful information.