Document Type


Publication Date



Iconicity is often defined as the resemblance between a form and a given meaning, while transparency is defined as the ability to infer a given meaning based on the form. This study examined the influence of knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL) on the perceived iconicity of signs and the relationship between iconicity, transparency (correctly guessed signs), ‘perceived transparency’ (transparency ratings of the guesses), and ‘semantic potential’ (the diversity (H index) of guesses). Experiment 1 compared iconicity ratings by deaf ASL signers and hearing non-signers for 991 signs from the ASL-LEX database. Signers and non-signers’ ratings were highly correlated; however, the groups provided different iconicity ratings for subclasses of signs: nouns vs. verbs, handling vs. entity, and one- vs. two-handed signs. In Experiment 2, non-signers guessed the meaning of 430 signs and rated them for how transparent their guessed meaning would be for others. Only 10% of guesses were correct. Iconicity ratings correlated with transparency (correct guesses), perceived transparency ratings, and semantic potential (H index). Further, some iconic signs were perceived as non-transparent and vice versa. The study demonstrates that linguistic knowledge mediates perceived iconicity distinctly from gesture and highlights critical distinctions between iconicity, transparency (perceived and objective), and semantic potential.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Language and Cognition, volume 11, issue 2, in 2019 following peer review. This article may not exactly replicate the final published version. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at

Peer Reviewed



UK Cognitive Linguistics Association

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.