Deaf children's understanding of the language of motion and location in ASL
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Understanding how a language expresses the existence and action of an entity represents a critical juncture in the development of cognition and the development of language. For deaf children learning a sign language, verbs of motion and location exemplify this critical juncture: these are complex structures that convey substantial morphological, syntactic and semantic information. This dissertation investigated deaf children’s understanding of linguistic representations of motion events as presented in a variety of verbs of motion and location in American Sign Language. The sample for this investigation consisted of 350 deaf children (of Deaf and hearing parents) enrolled in schools for the deaf in the United States. The subjects, who ranged in age from 4-18, were administered the Real Objects and Plurals Arrangement Task (ROPL) of the American Sign Language Assessment Instrument (ASLAI). The following research questions were addressed: (1) To what extent do deaf children understand each of the features of motion events (figure, ground, motion, path, manner, cause) expressed in verbs of motion and location? (2) What (if any) is the implicational structure of these features in the course of acquisition? (3) What role does exposure (i.e. early vs. late input) play on the acquisition of these features? Do age and parental hearing status influence the acquisition of these features? (4) Is there any difference in how deaf children learn to understand events in verbs of motion compared to verbs of location? Results revealed that deaf children's understanding of motion event features follows a sequential process, with features such as motion and figure being acquired in the earliest stages and path and ground being acquired later. Moreover, both age and length of exposure (to a signed language) influenced this acquisition process. These findings suggest that for deaf children, the acquisition of motion event structure in verbs of motion and location is a multifaceted process that is dependent on several factors.