Language and imagery: Effects of language modality

Gabriella Vigliocco, David P. Vinson, Tyron Woolfe, Matthew W.G. Dye, Bencie Woll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Across spoken languages, properties of wordforms (e.g. the sounds in the word hammer) do not generally evoke mental images associated to meanings. However, across signed languages, many signforms readily evoke mental images (e.g. the sign HAMMER resembles the motion involved in hammering). Here we assess the relationship between language and imagery, comparing the performance of English speakers and British sign language (BSL) signers in meaning similarity judgement tasks. In experiment 1, we found that BSL signers used these imagistic properties in making meaning similarity judgements, in contrast with English speakers. In experiment 2, we found that English speakers behaved more like BSL signers when asked to develop mental images for the words before performing the same task. These findings show that language differences can bias users to attend more to those aspects of the world encoded in their language than to those that are not; and that language modality (spoken versus signed) can affect the degree to which imagery is involved in language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1859-1863
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1574
StatePublished - Sep 7 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Imagery
  • Language
  • Semantics
  • Sign languages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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