Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The initial stages of first-language acquisition begun in adolescence: when late looks early*

  • NAJA FERJAN RAMÍREZ (a1), AMY M. LIEBERMAN (a1) and RACHEL I. MAYBERRY (a1)

Extract

Children typically acquire their native language naturally and spontaneously at a very young age. The emergence of early grammar can be predicted from children's vocabulary size and composition (Bates et al., 1994; Bates, Bretherton & Snyder, 1998; Bates & Goodman, 1997). One central question in language research is understanding what causes the changes in early language acquisition. Some researchers argue that the qualitative and quantitative shifts in word learning simply reflect the changing character of the child's cognitive maturity (for example, Gentner, 1982), while others argue that the trajectory of early language acquisition is driven by the child's growing familiarity with the language (Gillette, Gleitman, Gleitman & Lederer, 1999; Snedeker & Gleitman, 2004). These hypotheses are difficult to adjudicate because language acquisition in virtually all hearing children begins from birth and occurs simultaneously with cognitive development and brain maturation. The acquisition of sign languages, in contrast, is frequently delayed until older ages. In the USA, over 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not use sign language (Schein, 1989). As a result, deaf children are often exposed to sign language as a first language at a range of ages well beyond infancy (Mayberry, 2007). In rare cases, some deaf individuals are isolated from all linguistic input until adolescence when they start receiving special services and begin to learn sign language through immersion (Morford, 2003). Case studies of language acquisition in such extreme late first-language (L1) learners provide a unique opportunity to investigate first-language learning. The current study investigates three cases of young teens who are in the early stages of acquiring American Sign Language (ASL) as a first language, to determine what first-language acquisition in adolescence looks like.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Naja Ferjan Ramírez: e-mail: Naja.ferjan@gmail.com

Footnotes

Hide All
[*]

We thank the cases for their willing participation, Cindi Cassady, Michele Cannon, Marla Hatrak and other experienced professionals for their helpful discussions and insights about this work. This study was supported by an NIH Training Grant awarded to the Center for Research in Language at the University of California, San Diego (DC000041) and by a UCSD Chancellor's Interdisciplinary Collaboratories Fellowship. Portions of the data were presented at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Workshop: Evolution in our Hand, the Boston University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD 35), the Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Issues Conference (TISLR 10), and the International Congress for the Study of Child Language (IASCL 12).

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Anderson, D. & Reilly, J. (2002). The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory: Normative data for American Sign Language. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7, 83106.
Bates, E., Bretherton, I. & Snyder, L. (1998). From first words to grammar: Individual differences and dissociable mechanisms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bates, E. & Goodman, J. C. (1997). On the inseparability of grammar and the lexicon: Evidence from acquisition, aphasia and real-time processing. Language and Cognitive Processes 12, 507584.
Bates, E., Marchman, V., Thal, D., Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, J. S, Reilly, J. & Hartung, J. (1994). Developmental and stylistic variation in the composition of early vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 35, 85123.
Birdsong, D. (1992). Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition. Language 64, 706755.
Bonvillian, J., Orlansky, M. & Lazin Novack, L. (1983). Developmental milestones: Sign language acquisition and motor development. Child Development 54(6), 1435–45.
Brown, L., Sherbenou, R. J. & Johnsen, S. K. (1997). Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, Third Edition. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Caselli, M. C., Bates, E., Casadio, P., Fenson, J., Fenson, L., Sanderl, L. & Weir, J. (1995). A cross-linguistic study of early lexical development. Cognitive Development 10(2), 159200.
Crasborn, O., Sloetjes, H., Auer, E. & Wittenburg, P. (2006). Combining video and numeric data in the analysis of sign languages with the ELAN annotation software. In Vetoori, C. (ed.), Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on the representation and processing of sign languages: Lexicographic matters and didactic scenarios, 82–87. Paris: ELRA.
Curtiss, S. (1976). Genie: A psycholinguistic study of a modern-day ‘wild child’. New York: Academic Press.
Curtiss, S. (1988). Abnormal language acquisition and the modularity of language. In Newmeyer, F. J. (ed.), Linguistics – The Cambridge survey, Vol. 2, 96116. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dale, P., Bates, E., Reznick, S. & Morisset, C. (1989). The validity of a parent report instrument of child language at 20 months. Journal of Child Language 16, 239–49.
Emmorey, K. (2002). Language, cognition, and the brain: Insights from sign language research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Emmorey, K., Grant, R. & Ewan, B. (1994). A new case of linguistic isolation: Preliminary report. Paper presented at the 19th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.
Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, S., Bates, E., Thal, D. & Pethick, S. (1994). Variability in early communicative development. Society for Research in Child Development 59, 1189.
Flege, J. E., Yeni-Komshian, G. H. & Liu, S. (1999). Age constraints on second-language acquisition. Journal of Memory and Language 41, 78104.
Fujinaga, T., Kasuga, T., Uchida, N. & Saiga, H. (1990). Long-term follow-up study of children developmentally retarded by early environmental deprivation. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 116, 39104.
Gentner, D. (1982). Why nouns are learned before verbs: Linguistic relativity versus natural partitioning. In Kuczaj, S. (ed.), Language, thought and culture, 326. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gillette, J., Gleitman, H., Gleitman, L. & Lederer, A. (1999). Human simulations of vocabulary learning. Cognition 73, 135–76.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). The resilience of language. New York: Psychology Press.
Grimshaw, G., Adelstein, A., Bryden, M. & MacKinnon, G. (1998). First language acquisition in adolescence: Evidence for a critical period for verbal language development. Brain and Language 63, 237–55.
Heilman, J., Weismer, S. E., Evans, J. & Hollar, C. (2005). Utility of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory in identifying language abilities of late-talking and typically developing toddlers. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 14, 4051.
Hurtado, N., Marchman, V. A. & Fernald, A. (2008). Does input influence uptake? Links between maternal talk, processing speed, and vocabulary size in Spanish-learning children. Developmental Science 11, F31F39.
Huttenlocher, J., Vasilyeva, M., Cymerman, E. & Levine, S. (2002). Language input and child syntax. Cognitive Psychology 45, 337–74.
Klima, E. S. & Bellugi, U. (1979). The signs of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Koluchova, J. (1972). Severe deprivation in twins: A case study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 13, 107114.
Krentz, U. C. & Corina, D. P. (2008). Preference for language in early infancy: The human language bias is not speech specific. Developmental Science 11(1), 19.
Kuntze, M. (2011). Toward a new framework for analyzing ASL vocabulary development: Taking polymorphemic signs into consideration. Paper presented at the 35th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.
Lederberg, A. & Everhart, V. (1998). Communication between deaf children and their hearing mothers: The role of gesture, language, and vocalization. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 41, 887–99.
Lillo-Martin, D. (2000). Early and late in language acquisition: Aspects of syntax and acquisition of wh-questions in American Sign Language. In Emmorey, K. & Lane, H. (eds), The signs of language revisited: An anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima, 71–90. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Mayberry, R. I. (2002). Cognitive development of deaf children: The interface of language and perception in neuropsychology. In Segaolwitz, S. J. & Rapin, I. (eds), Handbook of neuropsychology 8, 2nd edn, vol. 8, part II, 71107. Amsterdam: Elsvier.
Mayberry, R. I. (2007). When timing is everything: Age of first-language acquisition effects on second-language learning. Applied Psycholinguistics 28, 537–49.
Mayberry, R. I. & Eichen, E. (1991). The long-lasting advantage of learning sign language in childhood: Another look at the critical period for language acquisition. Journal of Memory and Language 30, 486512.
Mayberry, R. I. & Lock, E. (2003). Age constraints on first versus second language acquisition: Evidence for linguistic plasticity and epigenesist. Brain and Language 87, 369–84.
Mayberry, R. I. & Squires, B. (2006). Sign language: Acquisition. In Brown, K. (ed.), Encyclopedia of language and linguistics 11, 2nd edn, 739–43. Oxford: Elsevier.
Mayer, M (1969). Frog, where are you?. New York: Dial Press.
Morford, J. (2003). Grammatical development in adolescent first-language learners. Linguistics 41, 681721.
Morford, J. P. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2006). From here and now to there and then: The development of displaced reference in homesign and English. Child Development 68, 420–35.
Morford, J. P. & MacFarlane, J. (2003). Frequency characteristics of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 3 (2), 213–25.
Newport, E. (1990). Maturational constraints on language learning. Cognitive Science 14, 1128.
Newport, E. & Meier, R. (1985). The acquisition of American Sign Language. In Slobin, D. (ed.), The cross-linguistic study of language acquisition, Vol. 1, 881938. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Petitto, L. A. (1987). On the autonomy of language and gesture: Evidence from the acquisition of personal pronouns in American Sign Language. Cognition 27, 152.
Petitto, L. A. & Marentette, P. F. (1991). Babbling in the manual mode: Evidence for the ontogeny of language. Science 251(5000), 1493–96.
Pizzuto, E. (1990). The early development of deixis in American Sign Language: What is the point? In Volterra, V. & Ertings, C. J. (eds), From gesture to language in hearing and deaf children, 142–61. New York: Springer Verlag.
Pollock, K., Price, J. & Fulmer, K. (2003). Speech-language acquisition in children adopted from China: A longitudinal investigation of two children. Journal of Multilingual Communication Disorders 1, 184–93.
Reilly, J. (2006). How faces come to serve grammar: The development of nonmanual morphology in American Sign Language. In Schick, B., Marschark, M. & Spencer, P. E. (eds), Advances in the development of sign language by deaf children, 262–90. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Reilly, J., McIntire, M. & Bellugi, U. (1991). Baby face: A new perspective on universals in language acquisition. In Siple, P. & Fischer, S. (eds), Theoretical issues in sign language research, Vol. 2, 923. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Roberts, J., Pollock, K., Krakow, R. & Price, J. (2005). Language development in preschool age children adopted from China. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 48(1), 93107.
Sandler, W. & Lillo-Martin, D. (2006). Sign language and linguistic universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schein, J. D. (1989). At home among strangers: Exploring the Deaf community in the United States. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Schick, B. (1990). Classifier predicates in American Sign Language. International Journal of Sign Linguistics 1, 1540.
Schick, B. (2006). Acquiring a visually motivated language: Evidence from diverse learners. In Schick, B., Marschark, M. & Spencer, P. (eds), Advances in the sign language development of deaf children, 102134. New York: Oxford University Press.
Slobin, D., Hoiting, N., Kuntze, M., Lindert, R., Weinberg, A., Pyers, J., Anthony, M., Biederman, Y. & Thumann, H. (2003). A cognitive/functional perspective on the acquisition of ‘classifiers’. In Emmorey, K. (ed.), Perspectives on classifier constructions in sign language, 271–96. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Snedeker, J., Geren, J. & Shafto, C. (2007). Starting over: International adoption as a natural experiment in language development. Psychological Science 18, 7987.
Snedeker, J. & Gleitman, L. (2004). Why it is hard to label our concepts. In Hall, D. G. & Waxman, S. (eds), Weaving a lexicon, 257–94. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Spencer, P. (1993). The expressive communication of hearing mothers and deaf infants. American Annals of the Deaf 138, 275–83.
Supalla, T. (1982). Structure and acquisition of verbs of motion and location in American Sign Language. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California, San Diego.
Tardif, T. (1996). Nouns are not always learned before verbs: Evidence from Mandarin speakers' early vocabularies. Developmental Psychology 32, 492504.
Tardif, T., Gelman, S. A. & Xu, F. (1999). Putting the ‘noun bias’ in context: A comparison of Mandarin and English. Child Development 70, 620–35.
Thal, D. & Bates, E. (1988). Language and gesture in late talkers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 31, 115–23.
Thal, D., O'Hanlon, L., Clemmons, M. & Frailin, L. (1999). Validity of a parent report measure of vocabulary and syntax for preschool children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 42, 482–96.
Vasilyeva, M., Waterfall, H. & Huttenlocher, J. (2008). Emergence of syntax: Commonalities and differences across children. Developmental Science 11, 8497.
Wechsler, D. & Naglieri, J. A. (2006). Wechsler Nonverbal Scale of Ability. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt.

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed