Abstract

Despite decades of research, there is still disagreement regarding the nature of the information that is maintained in linguistic short-term memory (STM). Some authors argue for abstract phonological codes, whereas others argue for more general sensory traces. We assess these possibilities by investigating linguistic STM in two distinct sensory–motor modalities, spoken and signed language. Hearing bilingual participants (native in English and American Sign Language) performed equivalent STM tasks in both languages during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Distinct, sensory-specific activations were seen during the maintenance phase of the task for spoken versus signed language. These regions have been previously shown to respond to nonlinguistic sensory stimulation, suggesting that linguistic STM tasks recruit sensory-specific networks. However, maintenance-phase activations common to the two languages were also observed, implying some form of common process. We conclude that linguistic STM involves sensory-dependent neural networks, but suggest that sensory-independent neural networks may also exist.

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