Dissociating linguistic and nonlinguistic gestural communication in the brain

Mairead MacSweeney, Ruth Campbell, Bencie Woll, Vincent Giampietro, Anthony S. David, Philip K. McGuire, Gemma A. Calvert, Michael J. Brammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (SciVal)


Gestures of the face, arms, and hands are components of signed languages used by Deaf people. Signaling codes, such as the racecourse betting code known as Tic Tac, are also made up of such gestures. Tic Tac lacks the phonological structure of British Sign Language (BSL) but is similar in terms of its visual and articulatory components. Using fMRI, we compared the neural correlates of viewing a gestural language (BSL) and a manual-brachial code (Tic Tac) relative to a low-level baseline task. We compared three groups: Deaf native signers, hearing native signers, and hearing nonsigners. None of the participants had any knowledge of Tic Tac. All three groups activated an extensive frontal-posterior network in response to both types of stimuli. Superior temporal cortex, including the planum temporale, was activated bilaterally in response to both types of gesture in all groups, irrespective of hearing status. The engagement of these traditionally auditory processing regions was greater in Deaf than hearing participants. These data suggest that the planum temporale may be responsive to visual movement in both deaf and hearing people, yet when hearing is absent early in development, the visual processing role of this region is enhanced. Greater activation for BSL than Tic Tac was observed in signers, but not in nonsigners, in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus and gyros, extending into the supramarginal gyros. This suggests that the left posterior perisylvian cortex is of fundamental importance to language processing, regardless of the modality in which it is conveyed. (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1605-1618
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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