Neural systems mediating American sign language: effects of sensory experience and age of acquisition

Brain Lang. 1997 May;57(3):285-308. doi: 10.1006/brln.1997.1739.


ERPs were recorded from deaf and hearing native signers and from hearing subjects who acquired ASL late or not at all as they viewed ASL signs that formed sentences. The results were compared across these groups and with those from hearing subjects reading English sentences. The results suggest that there are constraints on the organization of the neural systems that mediate formal languages and that these are independent of the modality through which language is acquired. These include different specializations of anterior and posterior cortical regions in aspects of grammatical and semantic processing and a bias for the left hemisphere to mediate aspects of mnemonic functions in language. Additionally, the results suggest that the nature and timing of sensory and language experience significantly impact the development of the language systems of the brain. Effects of the early acquisition of ASL include an increased role for the right hemisphere and for parietal cortex and this occurs in both hearing and deaf native signers. An increased role of posterior temporal and occipital areas occurs in deaf native signers only and thus may be attributable to auditory deprivation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Deafness
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Semantics
  • Sign Language*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning*