Areas of Study


A growing number of deaf students are arriving at Gallaudet without signing experience, calling for a need to understand their unique language learning situation. Such deaf learners have not been a focus of signed second language (M2L2) research.

The influence of deaf people’s early visual experiences and the strength of their early-language experience on their later visual linguistic structures have not been sufficiently explored. This project aims to address this by studying how deaf, new signers’ acquisition of morphosyntactic structures in ASL is affected by their early language and visual experiences.

The productions of two grammatical structures in ASL are explored:

  • Grammaticized pointing and
  • Narrative referent control

To disambiguate the contributions of first language (strong vs. weak) and sensory experiences (hearing vs. deaf), three groups are represented: hearing M2L2, deaf M2L2 with a strong English foundation, and deaf M2L2 with a weak English foundation.

The five measures are:

  • A language background questionnaire;
  • The PIAT-R (reading comprehension);
  • The ASL-CT (ASL comprehension);
  • A morphosyntactic pointing sentence repetition task; and
  • A narrative retelling task.

It is hypothesized that deaf people’s language-independent visual-spatial abilities positively influence their use of pointing and other visual-spatial structures.

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The Acquisition of ASL Morphosyntax in New Signers

Felicia Williams

Kenneth De Haan



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