Age, frequency, and iconicity in early sign language acquisition: Evidence from the Israeli Sign Language MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventory

Rama Novogrodsky, Natalia Meir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study described the development of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventory (CDI) for Israeli Sign Language (ISL) and investigated the effects of age, sign iconicity, and sign frequency on lexical acquisition of bimodal-bilingual toddlers acquiring ISL. Previous findings bring inconclusive evidence on the role of sign iconicity (the relationship between form and meaning) and sign frequency (how often a word/sign is used in the language) on the acquisition of signs. The ISL-CDI consisted of 563 video clips. Iconicity ratings from 41 sign-naïve Hebrew-speaking adults (Study 1A) and sign frequency ratings from 19 native ISL adult signers (Study 1B) were collected. ISL vocabulary was evaluated in 34 toddlers, native signers (Study 2). Results indicated significant effects of age, strong correlations between parental ISL ratings and ISL size even when age was controlled for, and strong correlations between naturalistic data and ISL-CDI scores, supporting the validity of the ISL-CDI. Moreover, the results revealed effects of iconicity, frequency, and interactions between age and the iconicity and frequency factors, suggesting that both iconicity and frequency are modulated by age. The findings contribute to the field of sign language acquisition and to our understanding of potential factors affecting human language acquisition beyond language modality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-845
Number of pages29
JournalApplied Psycholinguistics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgment. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 1068/16) awarded to Rama Novogrodsky. The authors would like to commemorate the memory of our dearest and beloved colleague, Irit Meir, a key person in the current research who was involved in planning the ISL-CDI test, and passed in February 2018. The authors are grateful to the families and children who participated in the study and to the BIBI team: Adi Steg, Anne Marie Baer, Ora Ohanin, Roni Beit-Halachmi, and Tamar Haluzi who helped developing the ISL-CDI test and collect the data. We would like to acknowledge Hope Morgan, Hilla Gendler-Shalev, and Wendy Sandler for their comments on earlier versions of the paper, and the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel for supporting us with the sign videos from the ISL dictionary.

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2020.


  • Sign language
  • acquisition
  • frequency
  • iconicity
  • vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology (all)


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