521-Class 19

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Language and deafness[edit]

Listen to this Radiolab podcast, focusing on segments 1 and 3. (The 2nd segment by/about Jill Bolte Taylor is completely unscientific, so take it with a huge grain of salt if you're going to listen to it). The transcript is here

In addition to the podcast, please read these 2 papers: First, Chapter from Sacks (2000), second, Ozcaliskan et al. (2009);

Study Questions[edit]

Radiolab Episode

  • What was unique about Ildefonso?
  • What were the basic results of the “left of the blue wall” experiment that was discussed in the first segment? Can you think of alternative explanations to those discussed in the segment?
  • Think about why language may be important for combining information in novel ways.

Oliver Sacks Chapter

  • Why was signing suppressed for so long?
  • Why did it take so long to realize that signed languages were languages?
  • Why were some of the deaf people described by Sacks so deficient in knowledge?

Ozcaliskan et al. (2009)

  • What makes someone a home signer? How are home signs different from the gestures of a conventional sign language, or from the gestures of hearing speakers?
  • What’s an example of a thematic relation ad a similarity relation?
  • You should be able to interpret Figures 3 and 4.
  • In what ways were the hearing and deaf children similar with regard to expressing relations? Different?
  • Why do you think the word “like” may be especially useful in expressing certain relations?

Take home points[edit]

  • There are a vast number of sign languages in existence, exhibiting the type of variation and structural complexity that we find in spoken languages.
  • Using the visual modality as a linguistic channel allows for unique design properties in sign language. For instance, signers can use multiple channels in parallel (e.g. using facial expressions as adverbs modifying manual signs).
  • Emerging sign languages such as Nicaraguan Sign Language show us how cultural evolution shapes language structure over time. In the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language, we can observe the development of design features such as spatial modulation and the separation of manner and path into discrete signing units.
  • In the absence of language, thought may be very different in nature. For instance, we discussed evidence that stable linguistic symbols aid in representing and comparing objects along specific dimensions.