April 30, 2008
Speech and ASL Developmental
American's falsely assume that “speech” is the center of language, and our
primary means of communication. Although this might be true for the vast
majority of hearing American's, American Sign Language, not speech, is the
visual-gestural language that is currently used by more than 2 million deaf
American's as a primary means of communication (Rosenberg, 2006). Just as
children who learn to speak acquire their speaking skills in an orderly
progression, studies have shown that children who use signs as their primary
mode of communication, similarly develop their gestural skills in an orderly
progression (Bonvillian, Orlansky, Novack, 1983). Dr. Laura Petitto, a
psychologist in Montreal stated that “new research strongly suggests that
the brain has an innate capacity to learn language in a particular, stepwise
fashion, by stringing together units into what eventually become meaningful
words. The brain will progress from one stage to another regardless of
whether language is conveyed through speaking, hand-signing, or any other
method of communication” (Angier, 1991).
Babies first learn their
language by watching and/or listening to their caregivers speech or sign,
which is typically provided in close proximity to the baby in a simple and
repetitive manner. Hearing mothers initially engage in simple speech “turn
taking” games, first cooing, then babbling, to their babies. They provide a
variety of sounds or echo their babies sounds. They talk about the names of
objects and actions in the babies environment, tell stories, read books,
etc. Although much of this is done during close face-to-face interactions
with caregiver and baby, this visual teaching is not the only way a hearing
baby can learn language. Mother's who are deaf model signs during face-to-
face interactions with their deaf babies. They mold the hands of their
babies to form shapes of signs. They exaggerate their facial expressions and
provide their models in the direct line of vision of their deaf babies
(Andrews, Logan, Phelan, 2008). The caregivers of both hearing children and
deaf children are believed to reinforce their children's early attempts at
communication, thus encouraging further and more elaborate communication.
Dr. Petitto noted that just as hearing parents reinforce the babbling of
their children by talking back to them and turning their babbling into true
words, i.e. “dadadada”....Daddy,” so do the deaf parents of deaf children,
by reinforcing their attempts at gestures by forming signs (Angier, 1991).
Both a hearing child and
a deaf child go through a series of amazing milestones in language from
birth through one year of age. A hearing child exhibits differentiated cries
(hungry, angry, sleepy, lonely) at approximately 1-2 months of age. He/she
is aware of his/her environment; enjoys human interaction; smiles; and plays
with his/her hands and fingers. He/she begins to making cooing noises at
approximately 2-3 months of age, and begins babbling (combination of
consonants and vowels produced randomly and seemingly without meaning)
between 3-6 months of age. At around 6 months of age, a hearing child will
begin producing jargon speech, which resembles “adult speech” in the
differentiated intonation of strings of consonant and vowel combinations.
Many hearing children will produce their first few words between 12-18
months of age.
A deaf child, born to
deaf parents using ASL, similarly is aware of his/her environment, enjoys
human interaction, smiles, and enjoys hand play from birth to 3 months of
age. From 3-6 months a deaf child also begins to babble, referred to as
“fingerbabbling” (Andrews, Logan, Phelan, 2008). “These gestures of the deaf
children do not have real meaning, any more than babble noises have meaning,
but they are far more systematic and deliberate than are the random finger
flutters and fist clenches of hearing babies” (Angier, 1991). Between 6-12
months, deaf children will use manual jargon, and will communicate with
gestures, such as pulling and pointing. Many deaf children will sign their
first word around 8 months of age and up to 10 or more signs by 12 months of
age (Andrews, Logan, Phelan, 2008).
developmental milestones (from 1-4 years of age) further evidence a
strikingly similar order of progression. “The phonology, syntax, semantics,
morphology and pragmatic aspects of language are acquired around 4 years of
age whether the parental input is in sign or spoken language” (Andrews,
Logan, Phelan, 2008).
Andrews, J., Logan, R.,
Phelan, J. (2008). Milestones of Language Development. Advance for
Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp.
Angier, N. (1991). Deaf
babies use their hands to babble, researcher finds.
The New York Times. Retrieved 21, April
2008: <http://www.nytimes.com/> .
Bonvillian, J., Orlansky, M.,
Novack, L. (1983). Developmental milestones: sign language acquisition and
motor development. JSTOR: Child Development, Vol. 54, No. 6, pp.
Rosenberg, K. (2006). Baby
Sign Language. Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.