Neural dissociation in the production of lexical versus classifier signs in ASL: distinct patterns of hemispheric asymmetry

Neuropsychologia. 2009 Jan;47(2):382-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.09.009. Epub 2008 Sep 19.


We examine the hemispheric organization for the production of two classes of ASL signs, lexical signs and classifier signs. Previous work has found strong left hemisphere dominance for the production of lexical signs, but several authors have speculated that classifier signs may involve the right hemisphere to a greater degree because they can represent spatial information in a topographic, non-categorical manner. Twenty-one unilaterally brain damaged signers (13 left hemisphere damaged, 8 right hemisphere damaged) were presented with a story narration task designed to elicit both lexical and classifier signs. Relative frequencies of the two types of errors were tabulated. Left hemisphere damaged signers produced significantly more lexical errors than did right hemisphere damaged signers, whereas the reverse pattern held for classifier signs. Our findings argue for different patterns of hemispheric asymmetry for these two classes of ASL signs. We suggest that the requirement to encode analogue spatial information in the production of classifier signs results in the increased involvement of the right hemisphere systems.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Aphasia / physiopathology*
  • Aphasia / psychology*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / etiology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology*
  • Brain Ischemia / complications
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / complications
  • Decision Making
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Sign Language*
  • Stroke / complications