Dissociation between linguistic and nonlinguistic gestural systems: A case for compositionality

David P. Corina, Howard Poizner, Ursula Bellugi, Todd Feinberg, Dorothy Dowd, Lucinda O'Grady-Batch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


This paper addresses the issue of the separability of disorders of sign language from disorders of gesture and pantomime. The study of a left-lesioned deaf signer presents one of the most striking examples to date of the cleavage between linguistic signs and manual pantomime. The left-hemisphere lesion produced a marked sign language aphasia disrupting both the production and the comprehension of sign language. However, in sharp contrast to the breakdown of sign language, the ability to communicate in nonlinguistic gesture was remarkably spared. This case has important implications for our understanding of the neural mediation of language and gesture. We argue that the differences observed in the fractionation of linguistic versus nonlinguistic gesture reflect differing degrees of compositionality of systems underlying language and gesture. The compositionality hypothesis receives support for the existence of phonemic paraphasias in sign language production, illustrating structural dissolution which is absent in the production of pantomimic gesture. Understanding the neural encoding of compositional motoric systems may lead to a principled anatomical account of the neural separability of language and gesture. This case provides a powerful indication of the left hemisphere's specialization for language-specific functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-447
Number of pages34
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1992
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Dissociation between linguistic and nonlinguistic gestural systems: A case for compositionality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this