Patterns and Effects of Language
Input to Deaf Infants and Toddlers
From Deaf and Hearing Mothers
Patricia Elizabeth Spencer & Margaret Harris
This chapter addresses characteristics of input that are especially facilitative of the development of a signed visual-gestural language. We begin by considering some key beneficial characteristics of language addressed to young children learning a spoken language and then explore similarities and differences between these characteristics and those that influence early sign development. We describe how deaf mothers adapt their signing to benefit young deaf children who are just beginning to learn sign, and we consider similarities and differences in the sign adaptations of deaf mothers who are fluent signers and hearing mothers who are new signers. The focus in the last part of the chapter is on children's emerging sign communication and how that relates to sign input and patterns of shared attention that operate within mother— child dyads.
Recent studies of behavior genetics are shedding new light on environmental influences on the development of language. In an extensive study of the incidence of typical and atypical language development in a large population of twins, Spinath, Price, Dale, and Plomin (2004) concluded "the greatest effect on language disability and ability in early childhood is shared environmental influence" (p. 445). Such an emphasis on the significance of the environment may come as a surprise to many researchers who have worked exclusively on the development of spoken language. Within that research community there have been—and will no doubt continue to be—many powerful advocates for the innate basis of language (e.g., Pinker, 2002). Indeed, we agree that