Neural processing of reading in bimodal-bilingual Deaf children

Hänel-Faulhaber, B. 1 , Groen, M. 2 , Röder, B. 1 & Friedrich, C. 3

1 University of Hamburg
2 Radboud University
3 University of Tuebingen

Models of bilingual word recognition in hearing bilinguals assume that they activate lexical items of both languages during auditory and visual word recognition (Kroll et al., 2006). Recently, co-activation of sign language during written or spoken word recognition in adult bimodal bilinguals has been reported (Kubus et al. 2014; Morford et al. 2011, 2014). To date, little is known about language processing in Deaf children (Ormel et al. 2012). Using phonological priming, we investigated lexical access of German Sign Language (DGS) and of written German in Deaf children native in DGS (n=14) and hearing controls (spoken and written German, n=14). Sign/spoken onsets (primes) preceded targets, which were legal or meaningless signs or written words and pseudowords in a lexical decision task. In addition to reaction times, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs). Both measures revealed that sign fragments facilitated the recognition of signs as well as of written words in native Deaf children. ERPs suggested that the priming effect was due to automatic lexical mapping processes. We conclude that native signers use their primary language processing route for literacy acquisition. Similar to spoken word form representations guiding reading in hearing participants, signed form representations seem to guide reading in native signers.