Comprehending sentences with the body: Action compatibility in British Sign Language?

David Vinson, Pamela Perniss, Neil Fox, Gabriella Vigliocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies show that reading sentences about actions leads to specific motor activity associated with actually performing those actions. We investigate how sign language input may modulate motor activation, using British Sign Language (BSL) sentences, some of which explicitly encode direction of motion, vs. written English, where motion is only implied. We find no evidence of action simulation in BSL comprehension (Experiments 1-3), but find effects of action simulation in comprehension of written English sentences by deaf native BSL signers (Experiment 4). These results provide constraints on the nature of mental simulations involved in comprehending action sentences referring to transfer events, suggesting that the richer contextual information provided by BSL sentences vs. written or spoken English may reduce the need for action simulation in comprehension, at least when the event described does not map completely onto the signer's own body.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Science
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: David Vinson, Pamela Perniss, Neil Fox and Gabriella Vigliocco (2016) Comprehending Sentences With the Body: Action Compatibility in British Sign Language? Cognitive Science, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


  • Sentence comprehension
  • Embodiment
  • Sign language
  • Motor simulation
  • Action compatibility


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