Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Literacy and Linguistic Development in Bilingual Deaf Children: Implications of the "And" for Phonological Processing

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Literacy and Linguistic Development in Bilingual Deaf Children: Implications of the "And" for Phonological Processing

Article excerpt

Research is widely available outlining the factors that contribute to successful language and literacy acquisition in hearing populations, both monolingual and bilingual (see reviews in Ehri, 2005, and Grabe, 2009, respectively). Most current theories of first- and secondlanguage reading development derive from studies on spoken languages that stress the importance of spoken-language proficiency in general, and phonological skills in particular, to learning to read. Similarly, much of the research with deaf populations has accepted the importance of spokenlanguage skills and aimed at verifying the existence of some quantitative difference between deaf and hearing readers. The dominant hypothesis in the field, the qualitative similarity hypothesis (QSH; see Paul, Wang, & Williams, 2013), posits that whether they learn English as a first or second language, d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals proceed through stages, produce errors, and use strategies that are similar to those observed in individuals with typical hearing, although the rate of acquisition is quantitatively delayed (Paul & Lee, 2010). The assumption here is that the same fundamental spoken-language skills in the language to be read underlie reading acquisition for all learners.

Research evidence in support of the QSH has been mixed, and debates in the field over what constitutes the fundamental skills that are necessary for d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals to learn to read are lively (see, e.g., Paul, Wang, Trezek, & Luckner, 2009, for one perspective, and Allen et al., 2009, for another). In particular, the issue of the necessity of spoken-language phonological awareness has been-and continues to be-hotly debated, and resides at the heart of theoretical controversy about deaf children's reading development. We have been asked to address this question in the present article: Is the reading process qualitatively similar, qualitatively different, or both for deaf learners? In response, we suggest that there is no simple answer-and certainly no single answer-given the extreme heterogeneity and the wide array of factors that affect language and literacy learning within the deaf population as a whole. To date, though, hypotheses considering this variability and exploring factors that promote or impede success in learning to read for specific subgroups of deaf learners have yet to receive much attention. A statement by the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington (1928) reflects what may be at the heart of this neglect: "We often think that when we have completed our study of one, we know all about two, because 'two' is 'one and one.' We forget that we have still to make a study of 'and' " (pp. 103-104).

In acknowledging Eddington's reminder of the "and," and in considering the question posed to us, we deliberately focus our discussion on bilingual deaf learners-and children who are learning a signed language, for example, American Sign Language (ASL), and concurrently a spoken and written language (e.g., English), and we limit our examination to a very specific subgroup: bilingual profoundly deaf children. Throughout the present article the term deaf children refers to those children with a congenital or early acquired severe to profound hearing loss that precludes auditory perception of conversational speech. For these children, irrespective of primary language, access to the "continuous phoneme stream" of a spoken language or a signed language is mediated through visual perception.

In what follows, we argue that visual perception of spoken and signed languages has consequences for how words are represented in the mental lexicon. In identifying these consequences, we present two studies that contrast the nature of deaf children's representations derived from a spoken language and from a signed language using the framework of "functional equivalence" we originally outlined in 2009 (McQuarrie & Parrila, 2009). Here, functional equivalence refers to the extent to which visual perception of either language conveys phonological information at the necessary level of precision to establish segmental structure in the representations of words in the mental lexicon. …

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