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ERP correlates of German Sign Language processing in deaf native signers

Barbara Hänel-Faulhaber12*, Nils Skotara1, Monique Kügow1, Uta Salden1, Davide Bottari1 and Brigitte Röder1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Hamburg, Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, Von-Melle-Park 11, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

2 Rhine-Waal-University of Applied Sciences, Early Childhood Education, Marie-Curie-Str.1, 47533 Kleve, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2014, 15:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-62

Published: 10 May 2014



The present study investigated the neural correlates of sign language processing of Deaf people who had learned German Sign Language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache, DGS) from their Deaf parents as their first language. Correct and incorrect signed sentences were presented sign by sign on a computer screen. At the end of each sentence the participants had to judge whether or not the sentence was an appropriate DGS sentence. Two types of violations were introduced: (1) semantically incorrect sentences containing a selectional restriction violation (implausible object); (2) morphosyntactically incorrect sentences containing a verb that was incorrectly inflected (i.e., incorrect direction of movement). Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 74 scalp electrodes.


Semantic violations (implausible signs) elicited an N400 effect followed by a positivity. Sentences with a morphosyntactic violation (verb agreement violation) elicited a negativity followed by a broad centro-parietal positivity.


ERP correlates of semantic and morphosyntactic aspects of DGS clearly differed from each other and showed a number of similarities with those observed in other signed and oral languages. These data suggest a similar functional organization of signed and oral languages despite the visual-spacial modality of sign language.

Sign language; Deaf; Native signers; Event-related potentials; Verb agreement; Semantic violation; N400; LAN; P600