Perception of Sonority in Sign Language
Focusing specifically on sign language, we explore the perception of “sonority,” which refers to salient changes in amplitude. Hearing adults and infants alike universally prefer well-formed speech syllables based on sonority constraints, even in unknown or artificial languages. Sonority also exists in visual languages, providing an opportunity to explore whether sonority-based linguistic preferences extends across modalities or is dependent on language experience. We tested visual perception of sonority in signing and nonsigning adults using a preference task where subjects indicated which fingerspelling variant they favored, and found that adults’ perception of visual sonority is dependent on language experience. Next, we explore developmental changes in the perception of sonority by recording looking times in sign-naïve infants using the same stimuli. Their peception of sonority decreased within age, suggesting that sensitivity to sonority is present early in life and is shaped by language exposure during development.