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Volume Nine: Issue Four

Summer 2009

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
COMMEMORATION
William C. Stokoe and the Study of Signed Languages

David F. Armstrong and Michael A. Karchmer

William C. Stokoe and the Gestural Theory of Language Origins

Sherman E. Wilcox
COMMENTARY
Gesture and the Nature of Semantic Phonology

David F. Armstrong and Sherman E. Wilcox

Abstract

ARTICLES
Language and Literacy Acquisition Through Parental Mediation in American Sign Language

Cynthia Neese Bailes, Lynne C. Erting, Carlene Thumann-Prezioso, and Carol J. Erting

Abstract

Deaf Children’s Construction of Writing

María Ignacia Massone and Mónica Baez

Abstract

BOOK REVIEW
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound: A Critical Edition, edited by Haun Saussy, Jonathan Stalling, and Lucas Klein

David F. Armstrong
ABSTRACTS
Gesture and the Nature of Semantic Phonology

The authors explain Stokoe’s seminal concept of semantic phonology and clarify some controversies concerning its application.

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Language and Literacy Acquisition Through Parental Mediation in American Sign Language

This longitudinal case study examined the language and literacy acquisition of a Deaf child as mediated by her signing Deaf parents during her first three years of life. Results indicate that the parents’ interactions with their child were guided by linguistic and cultural knowledge that produced an intuitive use of child-directed signing (CDSi) in American Sign Language (ASL) and that the child developed in ways similar to her hearing, speaking counterparts. Parental attention to eye gaze and eye contact, especially prior to the advent of the first sign, are described, as are the ways they mediated their child’s transference of knowledge about their visual language, ASL, to printed English. These findings demonstrate that when deaf children are immersed in a visually accessible natural language environment from birth, they can participate in the kinds of mediated interaction that provide the linguistic resources and the cognitive mapping necessary for increasingly complex development. Implications for the development of deaf children are addressed in light of continuing reports of underachievement in this population, whose members are typically deprived of the linguistic and cognitive resources afforded by early immersion in a natural signed language.

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Deaf Children’s Construction of Writing

High illiteracy rates among the Argentine deaf population, even after long years of schooling, point to the need to revise certain approaches to deaf literacy, particularly in school settings. Qualitative change in deaf literacy requires the use of multiple conceptual tools if learners are to be able to tackle its complexity without reductionism or oversimplification. We define illiteracy as the absence of knowledge that involves but is not confined to graphic marks. It has been contended that the term may also apply to the difficulty one experiences in interpreting and using written materials in a variety of contexts, as well as the inability to take part in a literate culture despite having mastered its written symbols.

Various studies have focused on different aspects of the “conquest of the written language” by deaf children and teenagers. Stressing their competence in and need for visual communication, this research therefore calls for the rejection of oralism in favor of the new ways of knowing made possible by today’s essentially visual media and multimedia.

In speaking of writing as a language or a mode of language, we mean far more than simply communicating. We are also referring to the making of meaning, to the interpretation of cultural practices, and to the reconstruction of the representations that define the family and culture in which every person is subjectively and socially embedded. Thus, literacy should be encouraged as a way to promote integration, and the processes that deaf children engage in to develop it deserve close attention.

In order to account for the specific features of the cognitive and linguistic processes that deaf people utilize when dealing with written language, we draw on two perspectives that have revolutionized the traditional understanding of the factors at stake in deaf literacy. These are the socioanthropological view of deafness and the psycholinguistic theory of writing, which is based on psychogenetic studies. Written languages characterize the practices, representations, and discourses of the literate hearing societies in which deaf communities are embedded. Deaf children, to whom written language is a second language, are linguistically, communicatively, and pragmatically competent in their own natural sign language. We explore deaf children’s literacy and the role that sign language plays in the reconstruction of written language.

The present study is part of a wider research project that focuses on how these children develop literacy skills. The article concentrates on the cognitive and linguistic processes involved in understanding written Spanish. It also discusses the conceptual schemata of language learners for whom sound does not constitute a source of information. They are already competent, nevertheless, in their own natural language (i.e., sign language), which presupposes a distinctive type of linguistic organization.

This article analyzes the interpretation of an illustrated text by deaf children who had had no oral training. The conclusions we draw are based on data obtained at the exploratory stage of this ongoing project. Although they are therefore provisional, we offer them here to encourage the revision of deaf literacy practices.

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