Language, Cognition, and the Brain: Insights from Sign Language Research

By Karen Emmorey | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Memory for Sign Language:
Implications for the Structure
of Working Memory

A tremendous amount of past research has investigated how Deaf people remember verbal material (e.g., Conrad, 1970; Furth, 1966; O'Connor & Hermelin, 1973; see Marschark, 1993, for a review). However, the focus of this research was primarily on memory for spoken or written English, with little regard to whether Deaf people might encode information using a sign-based representation. In this chapter, we explore the possibility of sign-based memory and what it can tell us about the architecture and nature of human memory systems. Specifically, we examine working memory—the short-term memory system involved in the processing and temporary storage of information.

Models of working memory typically contain two major components, one used for verbal material, the other used for visuospatial material (e.g., Baddeley, 1986; Logie, 1995). Fig. 7.1 provides a simplified representation of the model of working memory developed by Baddeley and colleagues (e.g., Baddeley, 1986; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). Although other accounts have been proposed, the basic architecture of the Baddeley model is still the most parsimonious (see Wilson, 2001a), and it has provided a useful framework for investigating working memory for sign language.

The central executive component shown in Fig. 7.1 regulates information flow within working memory, and it is supplemented by two subcomponents, which Gathercole and Baddeley (1993) characterized as follows: “The phonological loop maintains verbally coded information, whereas the visuo-spatial sketchpad is involved in the short-term processing and maintenance of material which has a strong visual or spatial component” (p. 4). Given that sign languages are both “verbal” (i.e., linguistic) and

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