Early Language Acquisition in French Sign Language: preliminary data on the development of gestures and signs

Abstract : Children acquiring Sign Languages follow a developmental sequence similar to their hearing counterparts acquiring spoken languages. Speech- and sign-exposed children (SP-E and SI-E respectively) communicate through gestural means – mainly deictic gestures – before they are able to produce their first lexical units ─ words or signs (Volterra, Iverson & Castrataro, 2006). Throughout the second year, two other types of communicative gestures complement the SP-E children’s repertoires: conventional gestures (CG: codified gestures shared among a given community) and representational gestures (RG: or iconic gestures, representing a referent based on its formal aspects or the action associated with it). What is specific to the language acquisition of SI-E children is that gestural and lexical development occurs in the same visual-gestural modality. Indeed, both RG and signs are produced by the manual articulators and share referential and conventional properties. It is therefore highly challenging to determine if a production is a RG or a sign without precise criteria (Petitto, 1992; Volterra & Iverson, 1995; Hoiting & Slobin, 2007). The overall aim of the present study is to explore gestural and linguistic development in French Sign Language (LSF). Our goal is twofold: 1) to collect developmental data on LSF acquisition from birth to 3 y.o in order to describe language acquisition milestones and lexical development in LSF and 2) to consider the gesture-sign continuum by investigating the way children reorganize their gestural communication system during language development, i.e., how gestural linguistic components are integrated into the existing prelinguistic gestural repertoire. We collected longitudinal data on four children exposed to LSF from birth by their deaf parents. Parent-child dyads were videotaped at monthly intervals during 45-minute spontaneous interactions (snack or play time). This study presents the preliminary results of 3 children (1 deaf and 2 hearing). Spontaneous gesturing and signing were coded and analyzed in terms of frequency between 9 and 18 months. The developmental progression of communicative gestures and signs observed is in line with previous research. First signs appeared around twelve months and are preceded by communicative gestures. Deictic gestures are the most prominent type among communicative gestures and are used not only in the early stage but also after first signs emerged. In all sessions, the children used more deictic (pointing, showing, and giving gestures) than other types of gestures or signs. From 14 months on, the analysis shows a significant increase in frequency of signs and gesture-sign types (those whose status is not clear), these two types will be analysed and described further. Finally, we observe a similar increase in the number, type and frequency of signs in the data from the parental input, which we discuss in the conclusions.
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Poster communications
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Elise Guy-Guyenet, Caroline Bogliotti, Anne Lacheret-Dujour. Early Language Acquisition in French Sign Language: preliminary data on the development of gestures and signs. 8th Conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies – Gesture and Diversity, Jul 2018, Cape Town, South Africa. ⟨hal-01878678⟩



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