Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf Signers Who Know Japanese Remember Words and Numbers More Effectively Than Deaf Signers Who Know English

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf Signers Who Know Japanese Remember Words and Numbers More Effectively Than Deaf Signers Who Know English

Article excerpt

DEAF PEOPLE HAVE difficulty reading and remembering English script because of its sound-based orthography. Logographs (e.g., kanji, Arabic numerals) should not pose the same challenge because they are based on meaning, not sound. Little research has been conducted to test this theory's validity cross-culturally. The present study was an attempt to do just that. The first of two experiments tested immediate memory spans for word sequences of 20 hearing Irish, 20 prelingually deaf Americans, 20 hearing Japanese, and 20 prelingually deaf Japanese. For English words, deaf participants showed shorter memory spans than hearing participants, but memory spans were similar for deaf and hearing participants for words in kanji, the logographic system for Japanese writing. The second experiment tested memory span for Arabic numerals, with the same participants. Deaf English-readers showed shorter memory spans than their hearing counterparts, but deaf and hearing Japanese performed similarly.

Readers of Japanese must encode and remember more visual shapes than readers of English. On average, a fluent Japanese reader knows approximately 2,000 Chinese characters (called kanji in Japan), each of which is composed of two or more components. There are approximately 300 of these components (Watanabe, 1976). By comparison, readers of English need only remember the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet, each letter with a much smaller complement of components than most Chinese characters.

By learning kanji, Japanese apparently have developed the ability to memorize visual forms (Flaherty & Connolly, 1996; Sugishita & Omura, 2001). Not surprisingly, therefore, Japanese and Chinese perform better than their American counterparts on spatial memory tests (Jensen & Whang, 1993; Stevenson & Ying-Lee, 1990). Reading kanji is a relatively complex task of visual recognition and memory (Sasaki, 1987). It is not possible to know the pronunciation of a kanji unless one has actually mastered it; one cannot sound it out, as in English.

Reading English orthography is difficult for the deaf reader (Conrad, 1972; Karchmer, Milone, & WoIk, 1979; Mahshie, 1995). This difficulty has generally been attributed to problems concerning two of the most important requirements for reading: the decoding process and general linguistic competence. For hearing readers, the "phonological loop" is specialized for holding and recycling a small amount of speech-based information, as in reading (Baddeley, 2000). The data on deaf readers suggest that they are unable to utilize the phonological loop to the extent that hearing readers can, even when orally educated (Hanson, Goodell, & Perfetti, 1991; Schaper & Reitsma, 1993). Deaf individuals display shorter memory spans than their hearing counterparts for English linguistic materials (Hanson, Liberman, & Shankweiler, 1984; Lichtenstein, 1982).

The question of what codes the deaf use in retaining English script in memory has been investigated. Conrad (1972) concluded that deaf people use the visual properties of letters. The predominant use of a visual code was also found in memory for words (Frumkin & Anisfeld, 1977; J. Locke & V. Locke, 1971). Evidence exists that the deaf can and do use the phonology or sublexical structure of American Sign Language (ASL) to code materials in tasks that draw on working memory (Dodd, Hobson, Brasher, & Campbell, 1983; Hanson, 1990). These phonological effects are based primarily on handshape. Studies have shown reduced memory span with materials that resemble handshapes (Klima & Bellugi, 1979; Poizner, Bellugi, & Tweney, 1981), and intrusion errors that resemble the stimulus materials in terms of handshape (Bellugi, Klima, & Siple, 1974; Krakow & Hanson, 1985). KyIe (1981) found that deaf people who used British Sign Language applied visual-perceptual or kinesthetic feedback from a sign code in tasks of word memory. …

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