Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Documenting English Syntactic Development in Face-to-Face Signed Communication

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Documenting English Syntactic Development in Face-to-Face Signed Communication

Article excerpt

The authors explored the face-to-face English competence of five students who were participating in a larger study of teachers' use of English-based signing. Using case studies, the authors report on the students' development of English-based signing at the beginning and end of their involvement in this 4-year study. Grammatical forms similar in English and American Sign Language (ASL) were initially more readily produced when tested for in English, and showed consistently higher attainment levels across all the students, than grammatical forms that are different in English and ASL. The authors found emerging English forms that could be documented ( a ) between prompted and imitated utterances and ( b ) within blocks of test items examining the same grammatical constructions. The authors conclude that teachers' concerted efforts to use English-based signing as a language of instruction enhance deaf students' English acquisition. Such signing helps build a bridge between native sign language and the development of English skills necessary for literacy.

In the past 3 decades, there has been a transformation of classrooms and programs for deaf children in the area of communication and, in particular, signed communication. The field has changed from a heavy emphasis on oral/auditory methods to the simultaneous use of signs and speech where some form of English signing dominates the signed component. More recently, some programs have begun to use bilingual methods, including ones that incorporate the use of American Sign Language (ASL), as the primary means ofinstruction. As a result, generations of children have grown up in signing environments, encouraged by both parents and teachers who are fluent signers. Along the way, classroom signing has evolved from Seeing Essential English 1, or SEE 1 (Anthony, 1971), to ASL, a process that has been well documented. Yet in spite of all of the changes over the past 30 years, little change has been seen in the literacy abilities of deaf children (Paul, 1998).

Since the first attempts at reintroducing signing into school programs in the 1970s, the kinds of signing that have been used and studied have themselves undergone rapid change- (Moores, 2001). The conceptualization of how signing can best be used in the classroom to enhance the education of deaf children has also under-- gone change. In order to understand where classroom signed communication is headed in the future, it is important to remember that schools are charged (among other things) with instruction in reading and writing in English. In a few locations, they might also be responsible for instruction in ASL.

The present article begins with a review of the literature on classroom signing, with an eye toward understanding the tensions between the necessity for visually accessible language and literacy based on auditory language. This review is followed by a consideration of the skills necessary for literacy development and what compensatory strategies deaf children might need. Finally, data are presented from a demonstration program in which a modified form of signed English was used as an instructional language in the classroom, and the relationship of this modified signed English to the emerging literacy abilities of the students in these classrooms is discussed.

Signed Forms of English

Systematic attempts to represent English on the hands began to appear in the 1970s. Such systems attempt to represent English manually at the morpho-syntactic level. This is accomplished by combining ASL signs, initialized signs, invented morphemes, and fingerspelling in varying combinations to represent English grammatical morphemes. All of these systems seem to presuppose that "the correct form of bimodality is the exact manual representation of all English morphemes presented simultaneously in sign and in speech" (Maxwell, 1990, p. 339). Studies of the signed component of teachers' and other competent users' simultaneous communication reveal that unstressed and elided English morphemes tend to be dropped from the signed channel, and therefore are neither visible nor audible (Maxwell & Bernstein, 1985). …

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