Do all aspects of learning benefit from iconicity? Evidence from motion capture

Asha Sato, Marieke Schouwstra, Molly Flaherty, Simon Kirby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent work suggests that not all aspects of learning benefit from an iconicity advantage (Ortega, 2017). We present the results of an artificial sign language learning experiment testing the hypothesis that iconicity may help learners to learn mappings between forms and meanings, whilst having a negative impact on learning specific features of the form. We used a 3D camera (Microsoft Kinect) to capture participants’ gestures and quantify the accuracy with which they reproduce the target gestures in two conditions. In the iconic condition, participants were shown an artificial sign language consisting of congruent gesture–meaning pairs. In the arbitrary condition, the language consisted of non-congruent gesture–meaning pairs. We quantified the accuracy of participants’ gestures using dynamic time warping (Celebi et. al., 2013). Our results show that participants in the iconic condition learn mappings more successfully than participants in the arbitrary condition, but there is no difference in the accuracy with which participants reproduce the forms. While our work confirms that iconicity helps to establish form–meaning mappings, our study did not give conclusive evidence about the effect of iconicity on production; we suggest that iconicity may only have an impact on learning forms when these are complex.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-55
JournalLanguage and cognition
Issue number1
Early online date14 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Oct 2019


  • motion capture
  • Artificial Sign Language learning
  • iconicity


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