Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities

By Ceil Lucas | Go to book overview

The Relationship of Educational Policy
to Language and Cognition in Deaf Children

Priscilla Shannon Gutierrez

Language plays a critical role in the development of cognition and communicative competence in humans. Language is required to process information, construct meaning, and participate in human interaction. Children who have limited language capabilities are disadvantaged learners. Proficiency in language is critical for facilitating communication and academic success (Daniels 1994). The underlying causes of linguistic deprivation or disadvantage often have been presumed to result from some innate problem of the child. However, a psychosociolinguistic perspective presumes instead that the deprivation or disability is social in nature (Mehan, as cited in Wertsch 1991). Children who have had limited linguistic experience within their social environment lack the cognitive tools required for academic success.

In spite of the return of manual systems of communication in the educational setting, deaf children still lag academically behind their hearing peers, much as they did 80 years ago (Strong 1991). American Sign Language (ASL), the natural language utilized by the Deaf community, has not been the language of instruction in many educational settings for deaf people. Emphasis has been placed on language learning through the use of coded forms of English. Signing Exact English (SEE) is reportedly the most widely used of these coded forms (Ramsey 1993). Educators have assumed that once a deaf child knows the coded form, this knowledge of English will facilitate literacy (Ramsey 1993). This assumption ignores the fact that many deaf children come to school linguistically and cognitively disadvantaged because their hearing parents are unable to communicate effectively with them through signed language. A small percentage of deaf children are born to deaf parents, who spontaneously sign a natural language and who can provide a sociocultural milieu that facilitates cognitive development. More than 90 percent of deaf children are born to

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