Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Learning with a Missing Sense: What Can We Learn from the Interaction of a Deaf Child with a Turtle?

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Learning with a Missing Sense: What Can We Learn from the Interaction of a Deaf Child with a Turtle?

Article excerpt

This case study reports on the progress of Navon, a 13-year-old boy with prelingual deafness, over a 3-month period following exposure to Logo, a computer programming language that visualizes specific programming commands by means of a virtual drawing tool called the Turtle. Despite an almost complete lack of skills in spoken and sign language, Navon made impressive progress in his programming skills, including acquisition of a notable active written vocabulary, which he learned to apply in a purposeful, rule-based manner. His achievements are discussed with reference to commonly held assumptions about the relationship between language and thought, in general, and the prerequisite of proper spoken language skills for the acquisition of reading and writing, in particular. Highlighted are the central principles responsible for Navon's unexpected cognitive and linguistic development, including the way it affected his social relations with peers and teachers.

The way in which language contributes to thought, in general, and learning, in particular, has occupied the minds of philosophers and educators from ancient Greece to the present day. Notwithstanding considerable disagreement about the exact nature of this relationship (for a review, see Carruthers, 2002), there seems to be a consensus that being without language impedes the ability of individuals to learn and think, in a rather essential way

Particularly for the acquisition of cognitive skills such as reading and writing, failure to properly internalize and access the coded language - that is, spoken language - is assumed to have far-reaching consequences (National Reading Panel, 2000). The basis for this conclusion is the argument that the meaning of written words is mediated by phonology, that is, by ab- stract phonological representations of spoken words stored in the reader's permanent lexicon (Frost, 1998; Ra- mus, Pidgeon, & Frith, 2003). Some re- searchers (e.g., Hu & Catts, 1998; Perfetti & Zhang, 1995) claim that this to hold true even for logographic orthographies, such as Mandarin Chi- nese, in which the basic units of writ- ing - the Chinese characters - are only vaguely related to the phonology of spoken words, if at all. On the other hand, some scholars tend to agree that obtaining access to the meaning of written words may be possible without phonological mediation, based on direct associations between orthographic representations and specific concepts in permanent memory. However, given that the emergence of such orthographic knowledge is hypothesized to be contingent on the existence of proper phonological decoding skills (Share, 1995, 1999, 2004), it is believed that lack of phonological competence necessarily dooms individuals to remain illiterate.

Assumptions about how the relationship between language and thought affects learning have particular relevance for individuals with prelingual deafness, since spoken language is difficult to acquire without proper hearing abilities. However, despite such hearing deficits, some individuals may eventually succeed in becoming competent speakers if they receive adequate treatment: early diagnosis, proper determination of hearing loss, optimal adjustment of hearing aids, enrollment in quality intervention programs, parental support, etc. (Carney & Moeller, 1998). Deaf children who are not exposed to competent sign language models during the critical period of language acquisition in childhood may find themselves growing up without attaining true proficiency in sign language, as well (Emmorey Bellugi, Friedend, & Horn, 1995; Mayberry 2007; Mayberry & Eichen, 1991). In other words, such individuals are at risk of failing to become competent in any language at all. The deaf boy portrayed in the case study in the present article represents an extreme example in this regard.

This rather pessimistic portrait of the linguistic abilities of individuals who are prelingually deaf dovetails with evidence indicating that the intellectual abilities of this population are less than those of their hearing counterparts (Marschark, 2006; Remine, Brown, Care, & Rickards, 2007). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.