3pSC16. Bilingualism: Sign language and English.

Session: Wednesday Afternoon, December 4


Author: Moise H. Goldstein, Jr.
Location: ECE Dept., Johns Hopkins Univ., Baltimore, MD 21218


More than 1000 babies with virtually no hearing are born in the US each year. Over 90% have hearing parents. Two extreme approaches to their language acquisition are: (a) They must attain oral language to stay part of their family; further, ASL is so much easier that it inhibits their gaining oral language and should be excluded; (b) given a functional visual system and a nonfunctional auditory system, the infant will learn ASL at the brain's pace and, as an adult, he/she will choose to be part of the Deaf culture, so English is de-emphasized. Both approaches are flawed. In the age-old battle between the oralists and the manualists, deaf children and their parents are the losers. For some time there has been the hope that technology will yield dramatic breakthroughs in aids for the deaf. It is suggested here that progress may well be made through intensive study of the neurology of language acquisition [Poizner et al., What the Hands Reveal about the Brain (MIT, Cambridge, MA, 1987)] and application of knowledge about bilingualism [F. Grosjean, Life with Two Languages (Harvard U. P., Cambridge, MA, 1987)].

ASA 132nd meeting - Hawaii, December 1996