Term Paper, 2011, 21 Pages
2.Language Acquisition by Deaf children
2.2 Sign Language
2.3 Language Acquisition by hearing children compared with deaf children
2.3.1 Deaf children with deaf parents
2.3.2 Deaf children with hearing parents
2.4 Bilingualism by deaf children
Language is the most important device in means of communication between human beings all over the world. We use it to ask something, to complain or explain and to tell what we think about things that come into our mind. But what if everything around you is silent? If you are deaf. You need to take advantage of one of your other organs, the eyes. Take advantage of facial expressions and gesticulation performed by others. In this term paper we have a look on language acquisition by deaf children in comparison with the acquisition by hearing children. First of all I will give information about deafness in general followed by an introduction to sign language. I will concentrate on American Sign Language (ASL) because of the small amount of information available about the other kinds of sign language. Within the comparison we need to differentiate between children growing up with hearing or deaf parents because of the impact the social environment has on language acquisition. This is also relevant to state because only 10% of the deaf children actually have deaf parents. Further I would like to introduce bilingualism in connection with deafness. In my conclusion I will state why studies on the subject of language acquisition by deaf children are important to understand language in his whole complexity.
In the first years of life, hearing is a critical element of children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. Even a mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child's ability to speak and understand language. Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects then about 1-3 infants out of every 1,000 will have some degree of hearing loss at birth according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Hearing loss can also develop in children who had normal hearing as infants. The loss can occur in one or both ears, and may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Profound hearing loss is what most people call deafness. Deafness is the total inability to hear and it can be present at birth (congenital) or appears at any age thereafter.
Reasons for deafness are various as for example family history of hearing loss, 1 infection with some viruses and bacteria (meningitis, mumps, measles), born prematurely and etc..
Signs of hearing loss in infants vary by age. One could be that a newborn baby with hearing loss may not look up when a loud noise sounds nearby or older infants may show no reaction when spoken to by family members. Sometimes deafness is not diagnosed until children are in school. Sadly, this happens even if children are born with hearing loss. Because of this screening for hearing loss is now recommended for all newborns. This is in particular important because early treatment of hearing loss can allow many infants to develop normal language skills without delay. Treatments like speech therapy and the learning of sign language are used to help children develop naturally. This leads us to the next point we need to mention, sign language.
Sign language must be as old as the race itself because deafness is not an invention of the last centuries. It develops differently from the normal communication of the hearing culture as for example a shoulder shrug does not mean anything without a vocal utterance for hearing people but for deaf people it becomes a definite meaning. Sign language is a language in visual-manual modality. It is a natural language as sophisticated and complex as any speech language. Like spoken language, sign language is not universal or international. Signed languages around the world are as dissimilar as for example English and Japanese as they are different in the construction of individual signs and the structure of sign sentences. Sign language is not a substitute of a speech language and it is not a signed version of a speech language. It stands in its own independence. ASL (American Sign Language) and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) for instance are not signed versions of English neither are they based on English. Also sign language is not made up of a standardized system of gestures. Many linguistic studies show that sign languages have their own grammatical rules, syntax, phonology, morphology, and other linguistic features that spoken languages have. It can be considered as a real language comparable to any spoken language in his complexity which allows to have an unlimited variety of sentences. Anything you can express in spoken language if abstract or not can also be expressed in sign language. Still some critics will not consider sign language as full language because it has no written form.
According to the Gallaudet University is ASL the most used sign language in the USA, the second most taught language in community colleges and the fourth most taught language in universities in the US. Gallaudet University is the leading university in liberal education and career development for deaf and hard of hearing students. The University enjoys a great and international reputation for its outstanding programs and for the quality of the research on topics related to deaf people.
There are also two other varieties of sign language, Signed English and Manuel English. These are often used in normal schools and formal settings because both depend on the English grammatical structure. Therefore they are not considered as independent sign languages. Fingerspelling is another variant and implies the complete spelling via a manual alphabet code. Most studies of sign language focus on ASL and ,as I mentioned in the introduction, I will do the same.
1960 William Stokoe made the first well-recognized, systematic description of a formational structure of individual signs that what came to be known as American Sign Language(ASL).
In the beginning, he did not receive much supports but a lot of criticism. Before the 1960s and 1970s, the oralist tradition (oralism), what I will explain later in the part on bilingualism, had been the means of deaf education and sign language was not seen as a language and was even prohibited in educational settings. Before his time, ASL used to be regarded as a simple set of gestures. However, his works disproved his critics scientifically and revolutionized the notion of language what Stokoe presented in his paper Sign Language Structure in 1960 and also when he co-authored the Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles in 1965. He also founded the journal Sign Language Studies in 1972.
Stokoe claims in his work that ASL has all the hallmarks, including sublexical or phonological structure and sentence-level grammar authentic to spoken languages. This sign language combines formational aspects of location, handshape and movement. The location is the place the sign is made, for example, neutral space is in front of the chest. Handshape describes the configuration of hand(s) and movement stands for the action of hand(s) within the sign. They are till today known as the basic units of phonological contrast in ASL signs and function in a manner largely analogous to that of phonemes. Stokoe calls the equivalent to phonemes cheremes. This is derived from the Ancient Greek χείρ for "hand". Therefore is the equivalent to phonology the cherology.
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