The relationship between American Sign Language vocabulary and the development of language-based reasoning skills in deaf children
The language-based analogical reasoning abilities of Deaf children are a controversial topic. Researchers lack agreement about whether Deaf children possess the ability to reason using language-based analogies, or whether this ability is limited by a lack of access to vocabulary, both written and signed. This dissertation examines factors that scaffold the development of language-based analogical reasoning through signed language. First it examines how background factors, such as age, race/ethnicity, or additional disabilities can affect the development of language-based analogical reasoning. Second, it looks at how different kinds of American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary support the development of language-based analogical reasoning. Five-hundred and fifty-six Deaf children were given five tasks from the ASL Assessment Instrument; one analogies task and four vocabulary tasks: an antonyms task, a synonyms task, a definitions task, and a contextual-based vocabulary task. The data showed that background traits can and do affect how well Deaf children reason using language-based analogies. The most important predictor of performance on the analogies task was ASL vocabulary knowledge, although other factors such as age, race/ethnicity, and additional disabilities can impact task performance. The data also showed that ASL vocabulary knowledge that promotes metalinguistic thinking is the best predictor of language-based analogical reasoning abilities. Potential applications to the classroom and to teacher training are also discussed.