Advances in the Sign Language Development of Deaf Children

By Brenda Schick; Marc Marschark et al. | Go to book overview

11
How Faces Come to Serve Grammar:
The Development of Nonmanual
Morphology in American
Sign Language

Judy Reilly

Research concerning the development of signed languages has overwhelmingly found that children acquiring a signed language from their signing parents follow the same steps and overall sequence of development as do hearing children learning a spoken language (Bellugi & Klima, 1982; Lillo-Martin, 1999; Newport & Meier, 1985). Similar to hearing babies, deaf infants babble (Pettito & Martenette, 1991), and Deaf parents use a special "motherese" when signing to their deaf infants and toddlers (Erting, Prezioso, & O'Grady-Hines, 1990; Reilly & Bellugi, 1996; Spencer & Harris, chapter 4 this volume). In acquiring the phonology of American Sign Language (ASL), deaf children make the same type of "errors" as to children learning a spoken language; for example, signs may have the wrong handshape or movement (Schick, chapter 5 this volume) simplifying the sign, just as children learning English may say "sketti" rather than the more phonologically complex "spaghetti." Both hearing and deaf children begin producing gestures during the second half of their first year, giving rise to extensive discussion regarding a developmental advantage for the emergence of first signs over first words (see Meier & Newport, 1990; see also Volterra, Iverson, & Castrataro, chapter 3 this volume). However, the first true symbolic use of signs appears during the same developmental period as the first symbolic words (Pettito, 2000; see also Anderson, chapter 6 this volume), and researchers generally agree that there is an early "onesign stage" followed by the onset of syntax, that is, utterances that combine multiple manual signs, beginning at about 20–24 months of

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