I am currently running a research study looking at how young deaf children respond to unknown sign languages. I am also collecting data on hearing children and their response to the same sign languages.
Deaf and hearing children ages 5-18 months old
Procedure: During this study, we use a simple, engaging task to test your baby’s awareness of the difference between two sign languages. You will join an online meeting with me (decent internet connection needed and a computer screen required). I will show you where to set up the screen for your infant and then I will start to play some short videos. There are two sets of videos (each set is around 5 minutes long). Your child’s eye gaze to the videos willbe recorded and later analyzed. I will ask you to fill out some background forms and answer some questions about your child’s language experience. That’s all! For a step-by-step description of the procedure, please go to the Procedure page.
If you choose to participate: We hope you are interested in learning more and supporting this exciting research. The researchers running the study are fluent in ASL. The activity is designed to be fun and engaging for young children, and you will receive a $20 gift card for your time. This study has been approved by the Gallaudet University Institutional Review Board. You and your child’s participation are completely voluntary. If you want to know more, you can respond through the form on "Register for the Study" tab of this site or contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. What will we do with the data?This work is important for many reasons, but one reason is that it can help to show the importance of early language experience for deaf children. The information gathered is confidential and we respect your rights to privacy. No images or identifying information will be used without your permission. When we complete the research, our findings will be discussed with other child language researchers and potentially written up for publication in academic journals. We hope the results will contribute to a greater understanding of language growth in deaf and hearing children.
Infants are born very sensitive to the linguistic patterns found in natural language. During their first year of life, they use these skills to acquire information about their native language(s). This early language foundation paves the way for the development of higher-level linguistic and cognitive skills (Kuhl, 2007). When infants are in this highly sensitive stage, they are able to tell languages apart even if they don't know the language. For example, an infant from an English-speaking home could listen to a person speaking Dutch and the same person speaking Spanish, and recognize that they are different languages (Nazzi et al., 1998). At around 10-12 months old, children undergo a perceptual change. They start to attend only to information that is important for their native language, and stop noticing differences that are less relevant to them (Werker & Hensch, 2015). This change is very important, because it allows infants to focus on acquiring their native language. This developmental milestone is called perceptual narrowing and it has been well-studied in hearing children. We know, for example, that the timeline for perceptual narrowing can be affected by early language experience (Byers-Heinlein & Fennell, 2014). There is even some evidence that late perceptual narrowing can indicate language delays (Jansson-Verkasalo et al., 2010).
Even though perceptual narrowing is understood for hearing children, there has not been much research on deaf infants and their early perceptual development. It is important to understand how deaf infants develop and there is added urgency because many young deaf children have unusual early language environments. More than 95% of deaf children are born to hearing, non-signing families, and in these cases, the immediate environment may provide little to no accessible language input (Mitchell & Karchmer, 2004). Even if parents choose to use amplification or cochlear implants, there is still a long delay in exposure. Previous research on adults provides compelling evidence that early language deprivation has significant and lasting consequences (e.g. Mayberry & Lock, 2003; Morford & Carlson, 2011). Testing deaf infants' perceptual development may be one way to help researchers determine what happens when a child does not have sufficient language experience. Ultimately, we hope this research will provide tools to help ensure early language experience for all children.
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Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C., & Smith, S. R. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches. Harm Reduction Journal, 9(1), 16.
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Nácar, L., Emmorey, K., Woll, B., Adam, R., Giezen, M., Werker, J., Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2017, October). Visual language discrimination in monolingual and bilingual infants is not speech specific. Poster session presented at the meeting of Cognitive Development Society, Portland, Oregon.
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