Volume 13, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1879-7865
  • E-ISSN: 1879-7873



This study examines whether a multi-faceted construct of language dominance developed for spoken languages applies to signed language bilinguals. Sign languages have been described as highly iconic and relatively similar to each other compared to spoken languages. Attaining fluency in the signed modality might well require considerably less effort, and balanced bilingualism may be more prevalent in the signed modality. Language dominance constructs, as currently understood, might differ in the spoken and signed modality. Forty bilinguals with two sign languages responded to a language dominance questionnaire developed for spoken languages and performed a phonological fluency (sign generation) task. Language dominance levels were found to vary in the signed modality. The correlation between reported dominance levels and the number of signs generated in each sign language was significant, suggesting that the construct of language dominance tested is robust and independent of modality.

Available under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...



  1. Adam, R.
    (2016) Unimodal bilingualism in the deaf community: Contact between dialects of BSL and ISL in Australia and the United Kingdom. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. University College, London.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Amengual, M.
    (2012) Interlingual influence in bilingual speech: Cognate status effect in a continuum of bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15(3), 517–530. 10.1017/S1366728911000460
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728911000460 [Google Scholar]
  3. Amengual, M., & Simonet, M.
    (2020) Language dominance does not always predict cross-linguistic interactions in bilingual speech production. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 10(6), 847–872. 10.1075/lab.18042.ame
    https://doi.org/10.1075/lab.18042.ame [Google Scholar]
  4. Aronoff, M., Meir, I., & Sandler, W.
    (2005) The paradox of sign language morphology. Language, 81(2), 301–344. 10.1353/lan.2005.0043
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2005.0043 [Google Scholar]
  5. Bahan, B.
    (2006) Face-to-face tradition in the American Deaf community: Dynamics of the teller, the tale, and the audience. InH.-D. L. Bauman, J. L. Nelson, & H. M. Rose (Eds.), Signing the body poetic (pp.21–50). University of California Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Bahrick, H. P., Hall, L. K., Goggin, J. P., Bahrick, L. E., & Berger, S. A.
    (1994) Fifty years of language maintenance and language dominance in bilingual Hispanic immigrants. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 123(3), 264–283. 10.1037/0096‑3445.123.3.264
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0096-3445.123.3.264 [Google Scholar]
  7. Baird, B. O.
    (2021) Bilingual language dominance and contrastive focus marking: Gradient effects of K’ichee’ syntax on Spanish prosody. International Journal of Bilingualism, 25(3), 500–515. 10.1177/1367006920952855
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006920952855 [Google Scholar]
  8. Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S.
    (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67(1), 1–48. 10.18637/jss.v067.i01
    https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v067.i01 [Google Scholar]
  9. Baus, C., Carreiras, M., & Emmorey, K.
    (2013) When does iconicity in sign language matter?Language and Cognitive Processes, 28(23), 261–271. 10.1080/01690965.2011.620374
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01690965.2011.620374 [Google Scholar]
  10. Birdsong, D.
    (2006) Dominance, proficiency, and second language grammatical processing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(1), 46–49.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Birdsong, D., Gertken, L. M., & Amengual, M.
    (2012) Bilingual Language Profile: An easy-to-use instrument to assess bilingualism. Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning, University of Texas at Austin, available athttps://sites.la.utexas.edu/bilingual/
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Byun, K.-S., de Vos, C., Bradford, A., Zeshan, U., & Levinson, S. C.
    (2018) First encounters: Repair sequences in cross-signing. Topics in Cognitive Science, 10(2), 314–334. 10.1111/tops.12303
    https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12303 [Google Scholar]
  13. Caselli, N. K., & Pyers, J. E.
    (2017) The road to language learning is not entirely iconic: Iconicity, neighborhood density, and frequency facilitate acquisition of sign language. Psychological Science, 28(7), 979–987. 10.1177/0956797617700498
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617700498 [Google Scholar]
  14. Clerc, L.
    (1852) Laurent Clerc. Connecticut Common School Journal (1838–1853), 6(3/4), 102–112.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Costa, A., Santesteban, M., & Caño, A.
    (2005) On the facilitatory effects of cognate words in bilingual speech production. Brain and Language, 94(1), 94–103. 10.1016/j.bandl.2004.12.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2004.12.002 [Google Scholar]
  16. Desloges, P.
    (1779) Observations d’un sourd et muèt, sur un cours élémentaire d’éducation des sourds et muèts, publié en 1779 par M. l’abbé Deschamps, chapelain de l’église d’Orléans. Retrieved fromgallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k749465
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Dunn, A. L., & Fox Tree, J. E.
    (2009) A quick, gradient bilingual dominance scale. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12(3), 273–289. 10.1017/S1366728909990113
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728909990113 [Google Scholar]
  18. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M.
    (1997) Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Third edition (PPVT-III). Pearson Education.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Eccarius, P., & Brentari, D.
    (2007) Symmetry and dominance: A cross-linguistic study of signs and classifier constructions. Lingua, 1171, 1169–1201. 10.1016/j.lingua.2005.04.006
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2005.04.006 [Google Scholar]
  20. Fenlon, J., Cormier, K., & Brentari, D.
    (2016) The phonology of sign languages. InA. Bosch & S. Hannahs (Eds.), Routledge handbook of phonological theory (pp.453–475). New York: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Flege, J. E., MacKay, I. R. A., & Piske, T.
    (2002) Assessing bilingual dominance. Applied Psycholinguistics, 231, 567–598. 10.1017/S0142716402004046
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716402004046 [Google Scholar]
  22. Frishberg, N.
    (1975) Arbitrariness and iconicity: Historical change in American Sign Language. Language, 51(3), 696–719. 10.2307/412894
    https://doi.org/10.2307/412894 [Google Scholar]
  23. Gertken, L. M., Amengual, M., & Birdsong, D.
    (2014) Assessing language dominance with the Bilingual Language Profile. InP. Leclercq, A. Edmonds, & H. Hilton (Eds.), Measuring L2 proficiency: Perspectives from SLA (pp.208–225). Multilingual Matters. 10.21832/9781783092291‑014
    https://doi.org/10.21832/9781783092291-014 [Google Scholar]
  24. Greenberg, J. H.
    (1957) Essays in linguistics. University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Grosjean, F.
    (1985) The bilingual as a competent but specific speaker-hearer. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 6(6), 467–477. 10.1080/01434632.1985.9994221
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.1985.9994221 [Google Scholar]
  26. Guerra Currie, A.-M., Meier, R. P., & Walters, K.
    (2002) A crosslinguistic examination of the lexicons of four signed languages. InR. P. Meier, K. Cormier, & D. Quinto-Pozos (Eds.), Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages (pp.224–236). Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511486777.011
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511486777.011 [Google Scholar]
  27. Hill, J. C., Lillo-Martin, D. C., & Wood, S. K.
    (2018) Sign languages: Structures and contexts. Routledge. 10.4324/9780429020872
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429020872 [Google Scholar]
  28. Hochgesang, J. A., Crasborn, O., & Lillo-Martin, D.
    (2021) ASL Signbank. Haskins Lab, Yale University. https://aslsignbank.haskins.yale.edu
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Jordan, I. K., & Battison, R.
    (1976) A referential communication experiment with foreign sign languages. Sign Language Studies, 10(1), 69–80. 10.1353/sls.1976.0000
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.1976.0000 [Google Scholar]
  30. Klima, E. S., & Bellugi, U.
    (1979) The signs of language. Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Kusters, A.
    (2020) The tipping point: On the use of signs from American Sign Language in international sign. Language and Communication, 751, 51–68. 10.1016/j.langcom.2020.06.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2020.06.004 [Google Scholar]
  32. Kusters, A., & De Meulder, M.
    (2013) Understanding Deafhood: In search of its meanings. American Annals of the Deaf, 157 (5), 428–438. 10.1353/aad.2013.0004
    https://doi.org/10.1353/aad.2013.0004 [Google Scholar]
  33. Kuzmina, E., Goral, M., Norvik, M., & Weekes, B. S.
    (2019) What influences language impairment in bilingual aphasia? A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 101, 445. 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00445
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00445 [Google Scholar]
  34. Lieberth, A. K., & Gamble, M. E. B.
    (1991) The role of iconicity in sign language learning by hearing adults. Journal of Communication Disorders, 24(2), 89–99. 10.1016/0021‑9924(91)90013‑9
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0021-9924(91)90013-9 [Google Scholar]
  35. Limesurvey GmbH
    Limesurvey GmbH. LimeSurvey: An Open Source survey tool. LimeSurvey GmbH. URLwww.limesurvey.org
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Lindeberg, D. J.
    (2022) Language dominance in sign languages. Retrieved fromosf.io/sczxw
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Marian, V., Blumenfeld, H. K., & Kaushanskaya, M.
    (2007) The Language Experience and Proficiency Questionnaire (LEAP-Q): Assessing language profiles in bilinguals and multilinguals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50(4), 940–967. 10.1044/1092‑4388(2007/067)
    https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2007/067) [Google Scholar]
  38. Marshall, C., Rowley, K., & Atkinson, J.
    (2014) Modality-dependent and -independent factors in the organisation of the signed language lexicon: Insights from semantic and phonological fluency tasks in BSL. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 43(5), 587–610. 10.1007/s10936‑013‑9271‑5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-013-9271-5 [Google Scholar]
  39. McKee, D., & Kennedy, G.
    (2000) Lexical comparison of signs from American, Australian, British and New Zealand sign languages. InK. Emmorey & H. L. Lane (Eds.), The signs of language revisited: An anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima (pp.49–76). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Meier, R. P., Mauk, C. E., Cheek, A., & Moreland, C. J.
    (2008) The form of children’s early signs: Iconic or motoric determinants?Language Learning and Development, 4(1), 63–98. 10.1080/15475440701377618
    https://doi.org/10.1080/15475440701377618 [Google Scholar]
  41. Meuter, R. F. I., & Allport, A.
    (1999) Bilingual language switching in naming: Asymmetrical costs of language selection. Journal of Memory and Language, 40(1), 25–40. 10.1006/jmla.1998.2602
    https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.1998.2602 [Google Scholar]
  42. Morere, D. A., Witkin, G., & Murphy, L.
    (2012) Measures of expressive language. InD. A. Morere & T. Allen (Eds.), Assessing literacy in deaf individuals (pp.141–157). Springer New York. 10.1007/978‑1‑4614‑5269‑0_8
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5269-0_8 [Google Scholar]
  43. Moriarty, E.
    (2020) Filmmaking in a linguistic ethnography of deaf tourist encounters. Sign Language Studies, 20(4), 572–594. 10.1353/sls.2020.0019
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.2020.0019 [Google Scholar]
  44. Mosand, N., & Malmquist, A. K.
    (1996) Se mitt språk. Døves Forlag As.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Mott, M., Midgley, K. J., Holcomb, P. J., & Emmorey, K.
    (2020) Cross-modal translation priming and iconicity effects in deaf signers and hearing learners of American sign language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 23(5), 1032–1044. 10.1017/S1366728919000889
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728919000889 [Google Scholar]
  46. Napoli, D. J., Gaw, N., & Mai, M.
    (2011) Primary movement in sign languages: A study of six languages. Gallaudet University Press. 10.2307/j.ctv2rr3d8n
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv2rr3d8n [Google Scholar]
  47. Nielsen, A., & Dingemanse, M.
    (2021) Iconicity in word learning and beyond: A critical review. Language and Speech, 64(1), 52–72. 10.1177/0023830920914339
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0023830920914339 [Google Scholar]
  48. Ortega, G., & Morgan, G.
    (2015) Input processing at first exposure to a sign language. Second Language Research, 31(4), 443–463. 10.1177/0267658315576822
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0267658315576822 [Google Scholar]
  49. Östling, R., Börstell, C., & Courtaux, S.
    (2018) Visual iconicity across sign languages: Large-scale automated video analysis of iconic articulators and locations. Frontiers in Psychology, 91, 725. 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00725
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00725 [Google Scholar]
  50. Padden, C., & Gunsauls, D. C.
    (2003) How the alphabet came to be used in a sign language. Sign Language Studies, 4(1), 10–33. 10.1353/sls.2003.0026
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.2003.0026 [Google Scholar]
  51. Parkhurst, S., & Parkhurst, D.
    (2003) Lexical comparisons of signed languages and the effects of iconicity. Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session471.
    [Google Scholar]
  52. Perniss, P., Lu, J. C., Morgan, G., & Vigliocco, G.
    (2018) Mapping language to the world: The role of iconicity in the sign language input. Developmental Science, 21(2), e12551. 10.1111/desc.12551
    https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12551 [Google Scholar]
  53. Polich, L.
    (2005) The emergence of the deaf community in Nicaragua: With sign language you can learn so much. Gallaudet University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Rathmann, C. G.
    (2005) Event structure in American Sign Language (Dissertation). University of Texas at Austin.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. R Core Team
    R Core Team (2020) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. www.R-project.org/
    [Google Scholar]
  56. Ringbom, H.
    (2007) Cross-linguistic similarity in foreign language learning. Multilingual Matters.
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Saussure, F. de
    (1916/1986) Course in general linguistics. Open Court.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Sehyr, Z. S., Giezen, M. R., & Emmorey, K.
    (2018) Comparing semantic fluency in American Sign Language and English. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 231, 399–407. 10.1093/deafed/eny013
    https://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/eny013 [Google Scholar]
  59. Shen, A., Gahl, S., & Johnson, K.
    (2020) Didn’t hear that coming: Effects of withholding phonetic cues to code-switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 23(5), 1020–1031. 10.1017/S1366728919000877
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728919000877 [Google Scholar]
  60. Shishkin, E., & Ecke, P.
    (2018) Language dominance, verbal fluency, and language control in two groups of Russian–English bilinguals. Languages, 3(3), 27. 10.3390/languages3030027
    https://doi.org/10.3390/languages3030027 [Google Scholar]
  61. Stewart, D. A.
    (1985) Language dominance in deaf students. Sign Language Studies, 49(1), 375–386. 10.1353/sls.1985.0004
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.1985.0004 [Google Scholar]
  62. Stokoe, W. C.
    (1960) Sign language structure: An outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. InStudies in linguistics: Occasional papers. Department of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.
    [Google Scholar]
  63. Treffers-Daller, J.
    (2016) Language dominance: The construct, its measurement, and operationalization. InC. Silva-Corvalan & J. Treffers-Daller (Eds.), Language dominance in bilinguals (pp.235–265). Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  64. (2019) What defines language dominance in bilinguals?Annual Review of Linguistics, 51, 375–393. 10.1146/annurev‑linguistics‑011817‑045554
    https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011817-045554 [Google Scholar]
  65. Webster, A. K.
    (2006) Keeping the word: On orality and literacy (with a sideways glance at Navajo). Oral Tradition, 21(2), 295–324. 10.1353/ort.2007.0006
    https://doi.org/10.1353/ort.2007.0006 [Google Scholar]
  66. Yoel, J.
    (2007) Evidence for first-language attrition of Russian sign language among immigrants to Israel. InD. Quinto-Pozos (Ed.), Sign languages in contact (pp.153–191). Gallaudet University Press.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

Most Cited

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error