Natural Signed Language
Acquisition Within the Social
Context of the Classroom
Jenny L. Singleton & Dianne D. Morgan
Deaf parents with deaf children may provide important insights
for hearing parents and early interventionists regarding optimal strategies for
communicating with a deaf infant.
—Koester, Papousek, & Smith-Gray (2000)
For many deaf children born to hearing parents, the best opportunity for learning a natural signed language will take place in their classroom, and the primary linguistic model will be their teacher. Some parents will be eager to learn sign language and will take courses to develop proficiency. Others may learn some basic sign vocabulary to support only a functional level of communication. Whether or not a deaf child has signing parents, when she engages in daily interactions with a highly proficient signing teacher, that natural signed language may become her primary language, and that teacher will likely become an important role model in the child's language development.
The notion that a classroom is a context for language acquisition has considerable theoretical importance. Whereas learning a second language from one's teacher and peers in the classroom setting is not uncommon in the United States (e.g., a Spanish-speaking recent immigrant who attends an English-as-a-second-language program in the United States), most children do not learn their primary language in schools from their teachers. While a research base of linguistic studies focusing on deaf children acquiring a natural signed language, such as American Sign Language (ASL), from their deaf parents has accumulated, little research has been conducted on the acquisition of natural signed languages by deaf children of hearing parents in the social context of the classroom.
The goals of this chapter are to first highlight some of the social and linguistic practices that have been observed in deaf parent/deaf child and hearing parent/deaf child family contexts. Our review is