Deaf children whose hearing losses prevent them from accessing spoken language and whose hearing parents have not exposed them to sign language are effectively deprived of input from a conventional language. Despite their lack of linguistic input, these children develop gesture systems, called homesigns that have many of the properties of natural language. The fact that children can develop certain linguistic properties under relatively impoverished language learning circumstances provides strong evidence for the resilience of these properties. But homesign does not exhibit all of the properties of natural language. The goal of the proposed research is to explore the conditions under which homesign becomes a full-blown language. Deaf children rarely remain homesigners in the US;they either learn a conventional sign language or receive cochlear implants and focus on spoken language. In Nicaragua not only do some homesigners continue to use their gesture systems into adulthood, but 30 years ago large numbers of homesigning children were brought together for the first time and Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) was born. NSL has continued to develop as new waves of children enter the community and learn to sign from older peers. The first generation, taken together with subsequent generations and current day homesigners (child and adult), thus provides a living historical record of an emerging language. Although generations of signers and adult homesigners have been studied in Nicaragua, and child homesigners have been studied in other cultures, no one has studied the same linguistic properties across all of these groups, thus limiting the field's ability to determine how each of these varying circumstances contributes to the growth of a linguistic property. The proposed research will chart changes in 3 central aspects of sentence structure (verb structure, argument-specification, and sentence-modulation) across these populations and has 5 aims: (1) To probe the structures child Nicaraguan homesigners use for these 3 functions, and thus explore the contribution children make to linguistic structure. (2) To probe the structures that adult Nicaraguan homesigners use for the 3 functions, and thus explore the impact that cognitive and social maturity has on emerging linguistic structure. (3) To probe the structures that the first cohort of NSL use for the 3 functions, and thus explore the impact that being a receiver, as well as a producer, of a sign system has on the structure of that system. (4) To probe the structures that subsequent cohorts of NSL use for the 3 functions, and thus explore the role that transmission across generations plays in structuring a linguistic system. (5) To probe how hearing speakers in Nicaragua use gesture, with speech and without it, when describing the same situations;gesture may provide the raw materials out of which the deaf individuals in Studies 1-4 forge their sign systems.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is designed to identify the capacities that children bring with them to language learning, thereby enabling educators to better help deaf children and hearing children with language disabilities learn a conventional language, be it signed or spoken.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01DC000491-27
Application #
8703066
Study Section
Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Cooper, Judith
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
27
Fiscal Year
2014
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Chicago
Department
Psychology
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
City
Chicago
State
IL
Country
United States
Zip Code
60637
Goldin-Meadow, S; Brentari, D; Coppola, M et al. (2015) Watching language grow in the manual modality: nominals, predicates, and handshapes. Cognition 136:381-95
OzyĆ¼rek, Asli; Furman, Reyhan; Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2015) On the way to language: event segmentation in homesign and gesture. J Child Lang 42:64-94
Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2015) The impact of time on predicate forms in the manual modality: signers, homesigners, and silent gesturers. Top Cogn Sci 7:169-84
Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2014) Widening the lens: what the manual modality reveals about language, learning and cognition. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 369:20130295
Goldin-Meadow, Susan; Levine, Susan C; Hedges, Larry V et al. (2014) New evidence about language and cognitive development based on a longitudinal study: hypotheses for intervention. Am Psychol 69:588-99
Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2014) In search of resilient and fragile properties of language. J Child Lang 41 Suppl 1:64-77
Fay, Nicolas; Lister, Casey J; Ellison, T Mark et al. (2014) Creating a communication system from scratch: gesture beats vocalization hands down. Front Psychol 5:354
Coppola, Marie; Spaepen, Elizabet; Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2013) Communicating about quantity without a language model: number devices in homesign grammar. Cogn Psychol 67:1-25
Brentari, Diane; Coppola, Marie; Jung, Ashley et al. (2013) Acquiring word class distinctions in American Sign Language: Evidence from handshape. Lang Learn Dev 9:130-150
Gentner, Dedre; Ozyurek, Asli; Gurcanli, Ozge et al. (2013) Spatial language facilitates spatial cognition: evidence from children who lack language input. Cognition 127:318-30

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