Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Establishment of a Phonemic Clustering System for American Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Establishment of a Phonemic Clustering System for American Sign Language

Article excerpt


Executive functioning, the self-regulatory or control system that governs all cognitive, behavioral, and emotional activity, may be measured by means of a variety of psychological and neuropsychological tests, including tests of verbal fluency A subset of these tasks, phonemic fluency, requires a person to generate words based on a letter cue (e.g., words that begin with the letter f). However, such tests are designed for users of spoken language. This article reports on the use of a measure of verbal fluency for American Sign Language (ASL) for which, in addition to the traditional score based on the total number of words produced during the task, an analysis of ASL-based "clusters" (related signs produced in succession) and "switches" (transitions from one cluster to another) was developed. Previous research with standard verbal fluency tasks has suggested that cluster and switching analysis reflects mental flexibility and cognitive search skills. A system for analyzing phonemic clusters in ASL is described, and its application is demonstrated using a case example.

Executive functioning is defined as the self-regulatory or control system that governs all cognitive, behavioral, and emotional activity (Denckla 1996; Anderson 2008; Hauser, Lukomski, and Hillman 2008). Aspects of executive functioning include initiating activity, inhibiting behavior, shifting between tasks, planning and organizing, selecting goals, and monitoring and evaluating behavior, among others (Gioia et al. 2000).

Certain aspects of executive functioning are commonly measured by tests of verbal fluency. The two main types are phonemic fluency tests (e.g., controlled oral word association [COWA] tasks) and semantic fluency tests. In a COWA test, a person must generate words in response to a letter cue. For instance, if individuals are asked to provide words that begin with the letter I, they might respond with "lion" or "learn." A test of semantic fluency measures a persons ability to produce words in response to a categorical cue (Baron 2004; Strauss, Sherman, and Spreen 2006). For example, if given the category animals, individuals might respond with "dog," "cat," or "mouse."Verbal fluency tests are thought to demonstrate a persons level of lexical organization, and these tasks involve many mental processes in their successful completion.They appear to involve (1) immediate attention to initiate the generation of words, (2) an available word knowledge (i.e., semantic/lexical system) from which to select, (3) the ability to retrieve from verbal declarative memory, and (4) an executive ability to coordinate this process, including working memory to monitor performance and avoid breaking the rules (e.g., no proper nouns) (Ruff et al. 1997). Individuals are also required to understand and remember task directions/parameters in order to successfully complete these tasks.

The FAS is the most commonly used measure of COWA and is widely employed for both research and clinical purposes (Barry, Bates, and Labouvie 2008). In the common administration of this task, participants are asked to produce as many words as possible that begin with a certain letter within one minute: "I will say a letter of the alphabet.Then I want you to give me as many words that begin with that letter as quickly as you can. For example, if I say ?b,' you might give me ?bad,' ?battle,' and ?bed.' I do not want you to use words that are proper names, such as ?Boston,'?Bob,' or ?Buick.' Also, do not give me the same word with different endings, such as ?eat' and ?eating.' Any questions? (pause) Begin when I say the letter.The first letter is f. Go ahead" (Strauss, Sherman, and Spreen 2006, 502).

Until recently, very little research has studied verbal fluency in individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Analyses by Morere, Witkin, and Murphy (2012), using a signed administration of the task, compared the number of words (signs) that deaf and hard of hearing college students produced on a COWA task (FAS) to published metanorms based on results from hearing people and found that the deaf and hard of hearing students produced more than one standard deviation fewer words than their hearing peers. …

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