Review Notes: Special Populations (Cited from Dr. Lisa Pearl’s Class Notes Ling 51)
• Like spoken sounds, sign language signs can be broken into features which can be combined:
-palm orientation (direction palm is facing)
• Features in spoken language combine to form individual sounds (ex: +stop, +voice, +velar
=/g/). Features in sign language combine to form words.
• Signers have categorical perception of features like handshape (i.e. please [hand open] while
sorry [hand closed]) and location (i.e. onion [up] vs. apple [down])
• It takes a while for deaf children learning sign language to understand “you” and “I” because
children make the same kind of mistakes as in spoken language acquisition, such as
overregularization errors in morphology (“goed”), ignoring parental corrections of form,
pronoun reversal errors (“confusing what “I” and “you” mean)—despite these being signified
by pointing gestures.
• learning a signed language is the same in complexity as learning a spoken language. There
are differences in oral language development though.
• Manual tradition: teach sign language (exclusively at first); gives linguistic input from day 1
• Oral tradition: force deaf children to learn spoken language (their viewpoint is that spoken
language is more important/ superior to sign language; delayed linguistic input, but
potentially better communication with non-signers
• Deaf children exposed to spoken language (oral tradition) learn much slower and never catch
up to their normal-hearing peers; deficit in spoken language, NOT in language generally.
• Deaf children exposed to sign language, learn language the same as normal-hearing children.
There’s no inherent deficit in language ability for deaf children.
~Syntactic development in blind children: same as that of sighted children
+some differences due to mother’s input (fewer questions, more commands), which leads
to late auxiliary verb (has, is) acquisition
+differences in motherese leads to differences in late auxiliary verb acquisition
~Lexicon development in blind children: blind children have fewer words for things that can be
seen but not touched (like flag, moon). They have more words for things associated with auditory
~One perspective: Language development builds on nonverbal communication, and on accessing
the meanings of sentences from the observable linguistic context ~Blind children can’t do nonverbal communication or use visual clues, but they still acquire
language the same way and at the same time as sighted children.
~Implication: Nonverbal cues are helpful but not necessary. Syntactic information in the
language itself can be just as useful (i.e. synaptic bootstrapping)
~Mental retardation = “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning…that is
accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning”
~Lets us test how general intelligence aids language acquisition.
If language is the result of general cognitive abilities, mentally retarded individuals should have
***If language is a specialized ability, it may be fine even if general intelligence is poor.***
Williams Syndrome child: have low general IQ, poor math, poor visuospatial reconstruction
abilities, calcification in the blood, good language, often good with music, highly social, lexicons
tend to include more unusual words and they like to use them.