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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Signing of Deaf Children with Autism: Lexical phonology and perspective-taking in the visual-spatial modality Add Dissertation
Author: Aaron Shield Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Texas at Austin, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2010
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): American Sign Language
Director(s): Richard Meier

Abstract: This dissertation represents the first systematic study of the sign
language of deaf children with autism. The signing of such children is of
particular interest because of the unique ways that some of the known
impairments of autism are likely to interact with sign language. In
particular, the visual-spatial modality of sign requires signers to
understand the visual perspectives of others, a skill which may require
theory of mind, which is delayed in autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 1985). It
is hypothesized that an impairment in visual perspective-taking could lead
to phonological errors in American Sign Language (ASL), specifically in the
parameters of palm orientation, movement, and location.

Twenty-five deaf children and adolescents with autism (10 deaf-of-deaf and
15 deaf-of-hearing) between the ages of 4;7 and 20;3 as well as a control
group of 13 typically-developing deaf-of-deaf children between the ages of
2;7 and 6;9 were observed in a series of studies, including naturalistic
observation, lexical elicitation, fingerspelling, imitation of nonsense
gestures, two visual perspective-taking tasks, and a novel sign learning
task. The imitation task was also performed on a control group of 24
hearing, non-signing college students. Finally, four deaf mothers of deaf
autistic children were interviewed about their children's signing. Results
showed that young deaf-of-deaf autistic children under the age of 10 are
prone to making phonological errors involving the palm orientation
parameter, substituting an inward palm for an outward palm and vice versa.
There is very little evidence that such errors occur in the typical
acquisition of ASL or any other sign language. These results indicate that
deaf children with autism are impaired from an early age in a cognitive
mechanism involved in the acquisition of sign language phonology, though it
remains unclear which mechanism(s) might be responsible. This research
demonstrates the importance of sign language research for a more complete
understanding of autism, as well as the need for research into atypical
populations for a better understanding of sign language linguistics.