Volume 25, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1387-9316
  • E-ISSN: 1569-996X
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



We report an experiment addressing the comprehension of LIS interrogatives in three adult populations with different times of exposure to sign language: native signers, early signers, and late signers. We investigate whether delayed exposure to language affects comprehension of interrogatives and whether there is an advantage for subject dependencies over object dependencies, as systematically reported for spoken languages. The answer to the first question is positive: there is evidence that natives outperform non-native signers, confirming permanent effects of delayed exposure to sign language even decades after childhood. However, the performance in subject interrogatives was lower than in object interrogatives in all groups of participants. We discuss several possible reasons for this unexpected finding.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Alba, Celia
    2016Wh-questions in Catalan Sign Language. Barcelona: Universitat Pompeu Fabra PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Aristodemo, Valentina, Beatrice Giustolisi, Giorgia Zorzi, Doriane Gras, Charlotte Hauser, Rita Sala, Jordina Sánchez Amat, Caterina Donati & Carlo Cecchetto
    2021 On the nature of role shift: insights from a comprehension study in different populations of LIS, LSC and LSF signers, https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03306458
  3. Aristodemo, Valentina, Beatrice Giustolisi, Carlo Cecchetto & Caterina Donati
    2020 Comprehension of verb directionality in LIS and LSF. Proceedings of 11th International Conference of Experimental Linguistics.   10.36505/ExLing‑2020/11/0008/000423
    https://doi.org/10.36505/ExLing-2020/11/0008/000423 [Google Scholar]
  4. Barberà, Gemma & Patricia Cabredo Hofherr
    2017 Backgrounded agents in sign language: passives, middles or impersonals?Language93(4). 767–798. 10.1353/lan.2017.0057
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2017.0057 [Google Scholar]
  5. Boudreault, Patrick & Rachel I. Mayberry, R.
    2006 Grammatical processing in American Sign Language: Age of first-language acquisition effects in relation to syntactic structure. Language and Cognitive Processes21(5). 608–635. 10.1080/01690960500139363
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01690960500139363 [Google Scholar]
  6. Branchini, Chiara, Carlo Cecchetto, Anna Cardinaletti, Caterina Donati & Carlo Geraci
    2013 Wh-duplication in Italian Sign Language (LIS). Sign Language & Linguistics16. 157–188. 10.1075/sll.16.2.03bra
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sll.16.2.03bra [Google Scholar]
  7. Branchini, Chiara
    2020 Syntax: Passive. InChiara Branchini & Lara Mantovan (eds.). A grammar of Italian Sign Language (LIS). 1st ed. (SIGN-HUB Sign Language Grammar Series). Available at: https://www.sign-hub.eu/grammar. Accessed30-09-2020.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Branchini, Chiara & Lara Mantovan
    (eds.) 2020A grammar of Italian Sign Language (LIS). 1st ed. (SIGN-HUB Sign Language Grammar Series). Available at: https://www.sign-hub.eu/grammar. Accessed30-09-2020. 10.30687/978‑88‑6969‑474‑5
    https://doi.org/10.30687/978-88-6969-474-5 [Google Scholar]
  9. Cecchetto, Carlo
    2012 Sentence types. InRoland Pfau, Markus Steinbach & Bencie Woll (eds.), Sign language. An international handbook (HSK – Handbooks of linguistics and communication science), 292–315. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110261325.292
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110261325.292 [Google Scholar]
  10. Cecchetto, Carlo, Carlo Geraci & Sandro Zucchi
    2009 Another way to mark syntactic dependencies: The case for right-peripheral specifiers in sign languages. Language85(2). 278–320. 10.1353/lan.0.0114
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.0.0114 [Google Scholar]
  11. Checchetto, Alessandra, Mirko Santoro, Beatrice Giustolisi, Naama Friedmann, Caterina Donati & Carlo Cecchetto
    2019 SYNTCQLIS – Content questions comprehension task in LIS. Handle to be attributed. Available under request athttps://www.sign-hub.eu/assessment/lis
  12. Cheng, Qi & Rachel I. Mayberry
    2020 When event knowledge overrides word order in sentence comprehension: Learning a first language after childhood. Developmental Science.   10.1111/desc.13073
    https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.13073 [Google Scholar]
  13. Cheng, Lauretta, Danielle Burgess, Natasha Vernooij, Cecilia Solís-Barroso, Ashley McDermottm & Savithry Namboodiripad
    2021 The problematic concept of “native speaker” in psycholinguistics: replacing vague and harmful terminology with inclusive and accurate measures.   10.31234/osf.io/23rmx
    https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/23rmx [Google Scholar]
  14. Cormier, Kearsy, Adam Schembri, David Vinson & Eleni Orfanidou
    2012 First language acquisition differs from second language acquisition in prelingually deaf signers: Evidence from sensitivity to grammaticality judgement in British Sign Language Cognition124(1). 50–65. 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.04.003
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2012.04.003 [Google Scholar]
  15. Dryer, Matthew S.
    2013 Position of interrogative phrases in content questions. InMatthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The world atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at: wals.info/chapter/93, Accessed on2020-09-30).
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Emmorey, Karen, Ursula Bellugi, Angela Friederici & Petra Horn
    1995 Effects of age of acquisition on grammatical sensitivity: Evidence from on-line and off-line tasks. Applied Psycholinguistics16(1). 1–23. 10.1017/S0142716400006391
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716400006391 [Google Scholar]
  17. Friedmann, Naama, Adriana Belletti & Luigi Rizzi
    2009 Relativized relatives: Types of intervention in the acquisition of A-bar dependenciesLingua119(1). 67–88. 10.1016/j.lingua.2008.09.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2008.09.002 [Google Scholar]
  18. Geraci, Carlo, Robert Bayley, Anna Cardinaletti, Carlo Cecchetto & Caterina Donati
    2015 Variation in Italian Sign Language (LIS): The case of wh-signs. Linguistics53. 125–151. 10.1515/ling‑2014‑0031
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2014-0031 [Google Scholar]
  19. Gibson, Edward
    2000 The dependency locality theory: A distance-based theory of linguistic complexity. InAlec Marantz, Yasuchi Miyashita & Wayne O’Neil (eds.), Image, language, brain: Papers from the first mind articulation project symposium, 94–126. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Grillo, Nino
    2009 Generalized Minimality: Feature impoverishment and comprehension deficits in agrammatismLingua119(10). 1426–1443. 10.1016/j.lingua.2008.04.003
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2008.04.003 [Google Scholar]
  21. Grodzinsky, Yosef
    2000 The neurology of syntax: Language use without broca’s area. Behavioral and Brain Sciences23. 1–21. 10.1017/S0140525X00002399
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00002399 [Google Scholar]
  22. Guasti, Maria Teresa
    2004Language acquisition: The growth of grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Hall, Wyatte C., Leonard L. Levin & Melissa L. Anderson
    2017 Language deprivation syndrome: a possible neurodevelopmental disorder with sociocultural origins. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology52. 761–776. 10.1007/s00127‑017‑1351‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-017-1351-7 [Google Scholar]
  24. Hauser, Charlotte, Giorgia Zorzi, Valentina Aristodemo, Beatrice Giustolisi, Doriane Gras, Rita Sala, Jordina Sánchez Amat, Carlo Cecchetto & Caterina Donati
    2021 Asymmetries in relative clause comprehension in three European sign languages. Glossa: a Journal of General Linguistics6(1). 72. 1–36. 10.5334/gjgl.1454
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.1454 [Google Scholar]
  25. Jäger, Lena, Zhong Chen, Qiang Li, Chien-jer Charles Lin & Shravan Vasishth
    2015 The subject-relative advantage in Chinese: Evidence for expectation-based processing. Journal of Memory and Language79/80. 97–120. 10.1016/j.jml.2014.10.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2014.10.005 [Google Scholar]
  26. Kegl, Judy
    1990 Predicate argument structure and verb-class organization in the ASL lexicon. InCeil Lucas (ed.), Sign language research: theoretical issues, 149–175. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Kelepir, Meltem
    2021 Content interrogatives – theoretical and experimental perspectives. InJosep Quer, Roland Pfau & Annika Herrmann (eds.), The Routledge handbook of theoretical and experimental sign language research, 232–265. Oxford: Routledge. 10.4324/9781315754499‑11
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315754499-11 [Google Scholar]
  28. Levy, Hagar & Naama Friedmann
    2009 Treatment of syntactic movement in syntactic SLI: A case study. First Language29. 15–49. 10.1177/0142723708097815
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723708097815 [Google Scholar]
  29. Mayberry, Rachel I.
    1993 First-language acquisition after childhood differs from second-language acquisition: The case of American Sign Language. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 36(6). 1258–1270. 10.1044/jshr.3606.1258
    https://doi.org/10.1044/jshr.3606.1258 [Google Scholar]
  30. Mitchell, Rose E. & Michael A. Karchmer, M.
    2004 Chasing the mythical ten percent: Parental hearing status of deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States. Sign Language Studies4(2). 138–163. 10.1353/sls.2004.0005
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.2004.0005 [Google Scholar]
  31. Reinhart, Tanja
    1976The syntactic domain of anaphora. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Rizzi, Luigi
    1997 The fine structure of the left periphery. InLiliane Haegeman (ed.), Elements of grammar: Handbook of generative syntax, 281–337. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 10.1007/978‑94‑011‑5420‑8_7
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-5420-8_7 [Google Scholar]
  33. 2018 Intervention effects in grammar and language acquisition. Probus30(2). 339–367. 10.1515/probus‑2018‑0006
    https://doi.org/10.1515/probus-2018-0006 [Google Scholar]
  34. Sheppard, Shannon M., Matthew Walenski, Tracy Love & Lewis P. Shapiro
    2015 The auditory comprehension of wh-questions in aphasia: Support for the intervener hypothesis. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research58. 781–797. 10.1044/2015_JSLHR‑L‑14‑0099
    https://doi.org/10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-14-0099 [Google Scholar]
  35. Van Der Lely, Heather & Jackie Battell
    2003 Wh-movement in children with grammatical SLI: A test of the RDDR hypothesis. Language79(1). 153–181. 10.1353/lan.2003.0089
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2003.0089 [Google Scholar]
  36. Van Gompel, Roger P. G.
    2013Sentence processing. Hove: Psychology Press. 10.4324/9780203488454
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203488454 [Google Scholar]
  37. Zeshan, Ulrike
    2004 Interrogative constructions in sign languages – Cross-linguistic perspectives. Language80(1). 7–39. 10.1353/lan.2004.0050
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2004.0050 [Google Scholar]
  38. Giorgia Zorzi, Valentina Aristodemo, Carlo Cecchetto, Beatrice Giustolisi, Charlotte Hauser, Josep Quer, Jordina Sanchez Amat & Caterina Donati
    2021 On the reliability of the notion of native signer and its risks. Manuscript available athttps://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03377023

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): age of exposure effects; interrogatives; LIS; wh-dependency
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