Case Study Sign

The children remained linguistically disconnected from their teachers, but the schoolyard, the street, and the school bus provided fertile ground for them to communicate with each other.

By combining gestures and elements of their home-sign systems, a pidgin-like form and a creole-like language rapidly emerged. This "first-stage" pidgin has been called Lenguaje de Signos Nicaragüense (LSN) and is still used by many who attended the school at this time.

These smaller parts allow for them to be rearranged to create different phrases.

The most sophisticated speakers use an A-B-A speech pattern; in our example, this reflects the signs roll-down-roll, to note that the rolling down motion is continuous, not that the subject rolled and then descended.

In June 1986, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education contacted Judy Kegl, an American Sign Language linguist from MIT.

As Kegl and other researchers began to analyze the language, they noticed that the young children had taken the pidgin-like form of the older children to a higher level of complexity, with verb agreement and other conventions of grammar.This more complex sign language is now known as Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN).ISN offers a rare opportunity to study the emergence of a new language.The fact that students who began signing at a younger age use spatial modulation more often than their older peers, who began signing at ISN's conception, is indicative that the language matures as the younger cohorts make the grammar more complex.They go on to note that only when a language is not matured, such as with ISN, do language-learning abilities show their transformational and creative capacity.Staff at the school, unaware of the development of this new language, saw the children's gesturing as mime and as a failure to acquire Spanish.Unable to understand what the children were saying to each other, they asked for outside help.In 1980, a vocational school for deaf adolescents was opened in the area of Managua called Villa Libertad.By 1983, there were over 400 deaf students enrolled in the two schools.In the signing space, the use of pointing to indicate referent identity has increased greatly since the 1980s.Points can serve a "pronoun-like function, coordinating with the spatial modulations to verbs, to indicate the argument structure of the sentence, and to co-index referents across discourse".


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