by William Vicars
relationship between literacy and ASL
success or failure of the bilingual/bicultural approach to educating
children who are deaf depends on the relationship between ASL proficiency
and English literacy. If no
such relationship exists, or if a negative relationship exists, the bi/bi
approach will be unlikely to succeed.
advocates often present Jim Cummins' Linguistic
Interdependence Theory in support of a bilingual approach to education.
According to the Linguistic Interdependence Theory, a language user
possesses an underlying set of cognitive and language abilities that are
similar to the base of an iceberg. The surface features of a language are similar to the caps of
an iceberg. If a person knows
two languages, it is like having a two ice caps with a common underlying
base. As the theory goes, if
you already have a language base, it is easier to acquire a second language
question though is, does a knowledge of signed ASL enhance or expedite the
acquisition of English literacy?
only is ASL a different language than English, it is also expressed via a
different mode. English is
expressed via speaking and writing.
is signed. Hearing, English-speaking people tend to develop inner speech
that is for the most part similar to their spoken or outer speech.
Writing is based on a person's inner speech. If a Spanish speaker wants to become literate in English, he
can use his underlying proficiency in Spoken Spanish to expedite his
acquisition of spoken English. He
then has two bridges to written English.
One is to bridge from spoken English to English based-inner-speech,
then to written English. The
other bridge is to utilize his underlying proficiency in writing Spanish as
an aide to learning written English. Both of these bridges (acquisition of
spoken English and transference of pre-existing writing skills) are, for the
most part, not available to deaf children (Chamberlain,
Morford, & Mayberry, 2000).
ASL has no widely established written form, (with a nod, tip of the hat, and
polite applause to the Sutton's and their Signwriting system) it would be
difficult to establish that there are any "reading and writing"
skills to be transferred and applied to the acquisition of English reading
and writing skills by deaf students.
the absence of transfer of reading and writing skills, what then is the
benefit of a deaf child learning ASL or using a bi/bi approach in the
pursuit of English literacy? It
seems fairly obvious that since ASL is expressed visually and gesturally
that it is acquired by individuals who are deaf more readily than are spoken
languages. The acquisition and
use of a language enhances and promotes an individual's cognitive and
metalinguistic abilities. These same cognitive and metalinguistic abilities then help
facilitate the acquisition of written English.
Strong and Philip Prinz conducted
a three year study of 155 deaf students in which they found a statistically
significant positive correlation between a high degree of ASL fluency and
English literacy. What is
interesting about their study is that they ranked their participants at
three levels of ASL proficiency:
medium, and high.
Those participants who had low levels of ASL
proficiency, having a deaf parent corresponded to higher English literacy
skills than students with hearing parents. The participants who had medium
or high levels of ASL proficiency had correspondingly good English literacy
skills regardless of the hearing status of their parents (Chamberlain
et. al., 2000).
C., Morford, J. P., & Mayberry, R. I. (2000). Language acquisition by
eye. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (pp. 131-140)
J. (1989). Empowering minority students (1st ed ed.). Sacramento,
Calif. (926 J St., Suite 810, Sacramento 95814): California Association for
K., Lane, H. L., Bellugi, U., & Klima, E. S. (2000). The signs of
language revisited an anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima.
Mahwah, N.J Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.