Linguistics Department Dissertation Defense – Jeff Palmer “ASL Word Order Development in Bimodal Bilingual Children” 11/19/15 at 1 pm @LLRH6, room 101

Jeff Palmer’s Dissertation Defense will be Thursday November 19, 2015 at 1pm in the Living and Learning Residence Hall (LLRH6), Room 101. Everyone is invited to attend the public presentation which will be the first 30-40 minutes. Here is a summary of his dissertation:

ASL Word Order Development in Bimodal Bilingual Children: Early syntax of hearing and cochlear-implanted deaf children from deaf signing families
This study examines the word orders produced by heritage learners of American Sign Language (ASL) from video-recorded naturalistic sessions. These bimodal bilingual children are born to deaf signing parents but have auditory access to English. Commonly, these children are only exposed to ASL in the home and the dominant language, English, both in school and in the community. This dissertation tracks the production of canonical (SV and VO) and non-canonical (VS and OV) word orders of the subjects from ages 1;8 to 3;6 and compares them to deaf children (without cochlear implants) from deaf signing families. Word order development is assessed by a first-repeated use measure of acquisition, examining the amount of each of the four word order types produced, as well as the proportion of canonical and non-canonical word orders produced by session over time. Results reveal that the bimodal bilingual children develop canonical word order similarly to the deaf comparison group at 23 months. This suggests that the bimodal bilinguals set their spec-head and head-complement parameters very early. When combining both the ASL-only and code-blended utterances the overall amount of canonical word orders produced by the bimodal bilingual children is not significantly different. However, the children diverge from the deaf controls in terms of their overall use and acquisition of non-canonical word orders. A mixed effects two-way linear regression confirms an interaction between hearing status and non-canonical word order production. The deaf children produce significantly more OV utterances (β = -6.81; s.e. = 1.35; t = 5.03) and VS utterances (β = 5.32; s.e. = 1.35; t = 3.93) than the bimodal bilinguals. For OV word order all the bimodal bilinguals (n = 4) did not reach first-repeated use criterion by 42 months. For VS word order, the hearing bimodal bilinguals (n = 2) reached criterion more than one year after the deaf children while the cochlear-implanted deaf children (n = 2) never reached criterion. This suggests that the bimodal bilinguals are still acquiring the ASL morphological features associated with non-canonical word orders. The results of this dissertation offer some of the first quantitative evidence to support the notion that bimodal bilinguals are heritage learners of ASL by specifically identifying which areas of their grammars diverge from deaf controls. These findings support previous research that argues heritage learners have difficultly with morphology leading to word order issues. Importantly, these bimodal bilinguals were conservative in their use of non-canonical word order and had very few word order errors. This distinguishes them from reports about late-exposed deaf signers who have a much higher word order error rate and further supports their heritage status as heritage learners’ acquisition path often diverges from monolingual comparisons.

The department congratulates Jeff for making it this far in his dissertation studies.

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