The surprising "homemade" sign language that deaf children invent
The communication system that deaf children use with hearing parents to be able to communicate and function in the family environment serves as a pretext to reach a topic as controversial as the innate character of language . Is language innate? Deaf children born to hearing parents and who have not
The communication system that deaf children use with hearing parents to be able to communicate and function in the family environment serves as a pretext to reach a topic as controversial as the innate character of language.
Is language innate? Deaf children born to hearing parents and who have not been exposed to a sign language constitute an amazing experiment in nature that promises to help clarify this issue.
How is the sign language "home" that deaf children invent
The home signs are a system of gestural communication developed by a deaf child and his family that does not have a communicative model that uses sign language.
These are deaf children born in hearing families, who have not been exposed to sign language. These children, therefore, have not been in contact with a model of conventional language, but they have had a normal childhood in all other senses, that is, they have not had social deprivation, neither linguistic nor sensory. Usually, parents and children spontaneously generate a home sign system to communicate.
The interest generated by the home sign languages comes from the information they offer about our ability to generate, process and acquire language, from their innate nature, from the natural tendency to communicate that we all have. They speak to us about topics such as the origin of language, the critical period for the acquisition of language, the general tendency of children to invent a communication system to communicate and the relationships that exist between gestures and language.
If language is only communication and learning (as argued by those who are against admitting the innate character of language), the sign systems of parents and children should have identical properties. On the other hand, if children have an innate capacity for language, their signs should show linguistic characteristics that are not present in the signs of their parents.
Surprisingly, not only do they have them, but they are plagued with them (Goldin-Meadow, 2005): in contrast to the signs of parents, their signs are stable and consist of parts that can recombine to produce new signs.
These children use their home signs to make requests, comments and questions about the here and now, but also about the past, the future and the hypothetical, to tell stories, to "talk" alone, and even to refer to their own signs.
Susan Goldin-Meadow discovered that the gestures of deaf children in America are not acquired by copying the gestures of their parents - they are more like the gestures of deaf Chinese children on the other side of the world.
It seems, therefore, that the innate tendency of children to create a language is so strong that, even when they grow up without being exposed to one, they tend to systematize their expressive system endowing it with linguistic properties. In a sense, it is almost impossible to grow without a language.