Development of Children who use ASL
Language has been proven to be a full language by many linguists, but do
people who grow up using ASL as their natural, native language has the same
linguistic development as people who develop a spoken language. There is
also a question about whether or not the development of ASL is processed the
same physically as spoken languages are processed. These are two important
questions that need to be addressed for educators of the Deaf to understand
the similarities and differences between their linguistic development and
children who develop spoken language.
development of children learning a spoken language is fairly similar between
children, but is it the same as learning a visual spatial language? When
children are between zero and twelve months old they should be babbling, and
turning towards any speaker they hear. (Bates, 22) It is said in the
article, “Baby Sign Language” by Mary Ellen Strote, “hearing babies born to
deaf parents ‘babbled’ with hand movements that were clearly distinct from
random hand movements and that reflected the rhythmic patterns found in sign
language. (Strote, 1) This clearly shows that children who are developing a
visual spatial language such as ASL do have similar linguistic development
at this stage. Another stage that children learning a spoken language go
through is at the age of 24 months, they will confuse pronouns. This was
thought not to take place when children are learning a visual spatial
language because the pronouns are basically seen as iconic, or more like a
mime. This is due to the fact that it is just pointing to the person to
whom you are referring. In a study done on how ASL is processes in the
brain, they observed a Deaf mother interacting with her two year old Deaf
child. When the child was talking with her mother, she continually confused
the pronouns in ASL and her mother was correcting her by turning her hand in
the correct direction. It was decided that even if the signs seemed to be
mimed, that due to the complexity of the linguistic structure the pointing
“looses its iconicity”. (Johnson & Wolkomir, 35) This example also clearly
shows that these children developing a visual spatial language instead of a
vocal language are developing in the same manner.
Another thing that
is important to learn is if children learning ASL as their natural language
as apposed to a spoken language, is if the children are processing these
languages in the same place in the brain and in the same manner. It was
found that people who did develop ASL as a first natural language did
process the language the same as those people who grew up on a spoken
language. The study used “positron-emission tomography (PET) scanner
measured blood-flow surges” in the brain. (Bower, 45) When they looked at
the brains of people who grew up learning ASL as their natural language,
they had the same blood flow patterns as the people who their natural
language was spoken English. These Deaf participants even had blood flow to
the auditory cortex when they were watching another person sign to them.
As you can see, it
does not matter what type of language you are learning, as long as it is
linguistically governed, the development and processing is the same. The
only difference that can be found is the normal variance found when dealing
with individuals. These findings are also very powerful for the argument
that ASL is a true language and has all the linguistic aspects need to be
considered a true language.
Bates, Elizabeth. (1996). Communication Skills and Disorders. Gale Encyclopedia of
Childhood and Adolescence, 151, 20 – 25.
Bower, B. (2000). Language Goes Beyond Sight, Sound in the Brain. Science News, 24,
42 - 50.
Johnson, Lyn & Wolkomir, Richard (1992). American Sign Language: ‘It’s not mouth
stuff—it’s brain stuff.’ Smithsonian, 23, 30.
Mary, E. (1982). Baby Sign Language. Fit Pregnancy, 1.