LINGUIST List 14.2074

Tue Aug 5 2003

Review: Lang Acquisition & Sign Lang: Froude (2003)

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  1. Christen Pearson, Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child.

Message 1: Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child.

Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2003 15:51:46 -0400
From: Christen Pearson <>
Subject: Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child.


Froude, Jenny (2003) Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf
Child, Multilingual Matters, Parents' and Teachers' Guides Number 6.

Announced at

Christen M. Pearson, Grand Valley State University.

This book is a mother's story of her son's development of meningitis
in infancy and resulting deafness, his growing years as a child with
hearing loss, and his ability to meet the associated challenges as he
begins adult life. Several appendices can be found at the back of the
book, including a list of resource addresses for information on
deafness, hearing loss, meningitis, educational issues, and support
groups, and a useful glossary of acronyms. Though not a textbook,
this volume might be useful at the undergraduate level for
supplementary reading in order to present a real-life case study,
thereby making course material more interesting and potentially
relevant for those in teacher training programs. For parents, it may
provide support, decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation. For
teachers, the book may help in understanding the daily life of and
challenges faced by children with significant hearing loss, outside of
the classroom, from a parental perspective.

Froude's text chronicles the first twenty-two years of her son's life
during the 1980's and 1990's, from the development of meningitis at
five months of age with resulting profound bilateral sensorineural
loss to early adulthood. As such, it is a testament to a mother's
emotions and psychological states during an initial crisis and
throughout the ups and downs of raising a special needs child. The
attitude Froude has taken is one of acceptance; that is, the situation
is looked upon with the view that her son survived a devastating
illness at such a young age and that ''only'' deafness was the
residual complication. Her attitude to communication issues could
also be termed compassionate. The focus is on what her son could do;
parenting involved providing security and anticipating needs, rather
than feigning an inability to understand in order to force/frustrate
the child to more clearly articulate sounds and possibly develop
speech. Such attitudes led Froude and her family to select a total
communication approach to language acquisition, encompassing facial
expression, body language, eye contact, gesture, lip patterns, signs,
voice, and writing. Without discounting the benefits of oralism for
some children, Froude shares her reasoning for why they chose the
total communication approach, including the view that the first two to
three years of life are a critical period for cognitive development
and language learning, which may be problematic if only an oral
approach is the focus, especially with children such as her son who
have profound bilateral sensorineural loss.

Overall, the strengths of this book lie in its ability to involve the
reader with an actual child and his family and to provide an
introduction to understanding some of the issues facing parents of
children who are profoundly deaf, such as: oral vs. manual vs. total
communication; regular classroom vs. special classroom vs. residential
schooling; and the advantages vs. disadvantages of cochlear implants.
Weaknesses of the book, especially if adopted for use as a
supplementary textbook, include: 1) its non-technical and possibly
offensive terminology at times (e.g., ''having fits'' (pg.4) and ''was
fitting dreadfully'' (pg. 5) used instead of the term ''seizures'');
2) a lack of linguistic depth in chronicling the child's language
development (e.g., there are few examples of phonemic, morphological,
or syntactical development, and no linguistic analyses of such data);
3) a lack of linguistic accuracy (e.g., inaccurate comparisons are
made to hearing children's language development, in order to
illustrate that Froude's son was developing vocabulary and language at
a similar pace, yet the numbers given are not what is documented in
the literature; see chapter summaries below); and 4) no clear
discussion of the difference between sign vocabulary vs. sign
language, an issue of importance, especially in view of the various
signed systems used by the child and family. A further possible
weakness, due to the international scope of the publisher, is that no
resources, information clearinghouses, or support groups outside of
the author's area are included in the appendices. In the following
paragraphs, a chapter by chapter summary will be given.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide a story-like background of Froude's child's
initial illness and resulting deafness as a framework for the rest of
the book. In Chapter 3, more details on language issues emerge,
though as noted above, this is done in a non-technical manner, with
little depth, and with some inaccuracies. Froude states that at age 2
years her son had a vocabulary of 36 signs and at 2 1/2 years was
using 86 signs, in comparison to a hearing child's productive
vocabulary of 50 words at 2 years (p.29). This is at odds with Clark
(1993) offering figures of 50-200 words in productive use at age 1 1/2
years and 500-600 words at 2 years; Barrett (1995) with up to 500 or
more productive words between 2 and 2 1/2 years; and Moskowitz (1998)
giving approximately 250 words at age 2 years and 450 words by age 2
1/2. Perhaps Lenneberg's (1998) figure of 50+ words at age 24 months
was used, yet his figure of 1000 words by age 36 months seems to have
been unacknowledged. Therefore, the size of the lexicon for Froude's
son does not appear to be comparable with a hearing child's vocabulary
development, unless one entertains the possibility that there is a
differential acquisition rate between British and American English.
This chapter does make some important points, however, as Froude
advocates that parents need to make informed choices regarding their
child's methods of communication. It is here that she discusses their
transition from the Paget Gorman Signed Speech (a system of 37 basic
signs using English grammar) to a system of signed English based on
British Sign Language but with English grammar and word order. This
section could have been more informative and strengthened by a fuller
discussion of signed gestural systems vs. sign languages (see Van
Cleve, 1987). The preschool years are addressed in Chapter 4,
including many 'firsts', such as preschool and riding the bus. It is
in this chapter that Froude talks about her son's ability to produce a
9 word ''sentence'' at the age of 3 1/2 years (p. 45), though upon
examination it appears that this might more accurately be described as
a T-unit or discourse turn.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 encompass the elementary, middle, and high school
years. By age 5, Froude's son was developing question formation and
beginning to read. Then, during the early elementary years, the
school phased in Signed English. At age 9, a further complication of
the early meningitis appeared, that of epilepsy, and Froude details
how her son and the family grappled with this new challenge. The
continuing problems with epilepsy, with the confounding problem of
migraines, concurrent with frustrations of obtaining appropriate
school and transportation services, are the foci of Chapter 6. It is
also in this chapter that Froude discusses her son's development of
complex sentences, new vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, question forms,
and more complex grammatical structures, as evidenced in his writing.
Again, though, there is a lack of depth in the material which would be
needed for a supplementary linguistics text. Froude also discusses
her son's personality development here, describing him as relaxed,
pleasant, and getting along well with peers and adults, which she
attributes to good communication development during his early years.
This then leads to Chapter 7, where the feelings and experiences of
the teen years are explored, including identity issues and the
challenges of learning to drive a car.

Chapters 8 through 10 address the option of cochlear implants and
Froude's son's desire to receive one at an older age, even though he
had become deaf prelingually. In Chapter 8, Froude discusses the
advantages and disadvantages of the implant for her son, while in
Chapter 9 she offers a very good description of the actual device,
using a piano analogy, for the lay person with a limited understanding
of deafness. In this chapter Froude also shares the pain and
frustration of her son needing two surgeries for the implantation, due
to misplacement of the device in the first surgery. The process of
becoming ''switched on'', that is, having the implant activated and
learning to discriminate sounds, is the topic of Chapter 10. This
chapter also offers a realistic view of what an implant can and cannot
do when received at an older age by someone who became profoundly deaf
prelingually. Because of this, total communication continued to be
the approach of choice, with the implant used as a supplement and for
greater awareness of environmental sounds. (See Sound & Fury: The
Communication Wars of the Deaf (2000), an 80 minute video which also
addresses some of the same issues that Froude discusses.)

Chapter 11 provides an overview of Froude's son's language development
as he neared adulthood. There is a brief comparison of vocabulary
development to a hearing child's (see, again, above notes on
inaccuracies) and confusing statements where Froude appears to use the
ability to hold a pen with perfect control as argument for language
development. One is left wondering if it is the fine motor control
being discussed, which does not necessarily equate with oral or
language skills, or whether this statement is being used idiomatically
to mean written language skills. The chapter also discusses in
passing the residual problems with verb tenses and function words. To
further exemplify language development, an interesting collection of
her son's letters is included, which show acquisition of different
discourse genres, such as explaining, cajoling, and negotiating.
Froude also provides a rather novel and interesting view on possible
differences between children born deaf and children who become deaf
prelingually, and poses the question of what should be considered the
first language of each group. The idea is offered that perhaps those
born deaf should learn British Sign Language, whereas those who become
deaf prelingually should learn Signed English: first, as they may
already have some comprehension of English, and second, because of its
similarity to spoken and written English, and the ease of transfer to
literacy skills which are important for independent survival. One of
the more linguistically ''rich'' chapters, a brief discussion of other
books about deaf children is offered, as well as passing references to
works by Karmilof-Smith, Chomsky, and Marschark. Again, if these
references, as well as the language development material, had been
more in-depth, it would have added value to the book being used as a
supplementary text (again, for a real-life case study) rather than
simply a ''good read.''

The remaining chapters note the challenges of early adulthood and
bring the book to its conclusion. Chapter 12 chronicles the
increasing independence of Froude's son, as he prepares for and
participates in the ''Trans-Borneo Cycle Challenge 2000 for Sense'' of
The National Deafblind and Rubella Association. It is in this chapter
that Froude also discusses the further expansion of her son's
independence, evidenced by his seeking employment outside of the
family business. In Chapter 13, Froude uses the term ''invisible
handicap'' and pulls the last 22 years of their life together by
noting that deafness is not simply a lack of hearing, but a way of
life. Finally, in Chapter 14, after having shared her family's story
and choices, Froude states that while total communication worked best
for them (see also Jacobs, 1989), each situation is different, thus
leaving open the possibility that other methods might work better for
other families. This brings back an earlier point in the book, where
Froude emphasizes the need for parents to make informed choices.
This, then, may be the primary purpose of the book - to offer one
family's story so that other parents, teachers, and students can
experience one view as they investigate still others on the road to
making informed decisions concerning the individual children in their


Barrett, M. (1995). Early lexical development. In P. Fletcher & B.
MacWhinney (Eds.), The Handbook of Child Language, Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers Ltd.

Clark, E. V. (1993). The lexicon in acquisition, Cambridge Studies in
Linguistics, 65. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jacobs, L. M. (1989). A deaf adult speaks out (3rd ed.). Washington,
D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Lenneberg, E. H. (1998). Developmental milestones in motor and language
development. In V. P. Clark, P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.),
Language: Readings in Language and Culture (6th ed.). Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's.

Moskowitz, B. A. (1998). The acquisition of language. In V. P. Clark,
P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.), Language: Readings in Language and
Culture (6th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Sound & fury: Communication wars of the deaf [film] (2000). A
Production of Aronson Film Associates and Public Policy Productions, New
York: Filmakers Library.

Van Cleve, J. V. (Ed.) (1987). Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People
and Deafness, Vol. 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Christen M. Pearson, PhD, is an assistant professor teaching
undergraduate and graduate courses in introductory linguistics,
applied linguistics, methods of TESOL, second language acquisition
theory, and language disorders. Her research interests include
phonological working memory in ESL learners, the interface of ESL and
language disorders in children, and language and literacy development
in the special population of older internationally adopted children.
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