Language Development in Exceptional Circumstances: Auditory Impairment
The study of child language acquisition became of interest to
psycholinguists in the 1960’s after Chomsky’s suggestion that the
study of the development of language would provide evidence for
theories of language. Ever since these initial studies, theorists have
used the development of child language to study issues such as the
contexts of interaction in which language arises and the importance of
parental input. After the explosion of interest in language
acquisition linguists began to take an interest in the development of
language (more specifically sign language) in deaf children. By
examining a selection of these studies I will attempt to discuss the
implications of the studies in comparison to language acquisition
Deafness or the extent of deafness is generally not confirmed until
the child reaches age one. Surprisingly, despite their auditory
impairment deaf babies coo and babble in the same way as babies with
normal hearing and follow Stark’s stages of vocal pronunciation until
approximately 9 months. Up until this point the infants cry, coo,
laugh and babble. They also use the same phonetic inventory as hearing
children which consists mainly of nasals and stops. At the age of
approximately 9 months the infants begin to produce more labials, this
is presumably because they can rely upon visual cues, but their speech
soon begins to disappear.
To begin with I will confirm my definition of deaf infants as those
who have congenital hearing impairments with a severity of 90db or
more. As a result of auditory impairment these children, who have very
little residual hearing cannot hear the speech of people around them.
(Berko-Gleason 2001: 248)
Children born to deaf parents learn sign language as a mother tongue
or first language and it becomes a natural method of communication.
Infants learning sign as their first language pass through similar
syntactic stages at the same points in their development as children
exposed to spoken language. They begin with the holophrastic stage of
language and develop telegraphic speech, omitting function words and
most of the inflectional morphology. By age 5 all essential functions
of formal sign language are acquired.
Bellugi and Klima’s (1972) study ‘Pola’ can be used to demonstrate.
Pola was a deaf infant born to deaf parents and therefore exposed to
sign language from Birth. Bellugi and Klima discovered that before the
age of 3 Pola used the signs: name, stay, tomorrow, will, where, who,
what how, dead, know, understand, none, nothing, don’t know and had
the same amount of ‘signs’ to her exposal as would a hearing child
with words. Pola had already learned the hand alphabet and could sign
this clearly. Bellugi and Klima also found early...