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Science. 2004 Sep 17;305(5691):1779-82.

Children creating core properties of language: evidence from an emerging sign language in Nicaragua.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Barnard College of Columbia University, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027, USA.


A new sign language has been created by deaf Nicaraguans over the past 25 years, providing an opportunity to observe the inception of universal hallmarks of language. We found that in their initial creation of the language, children analyzed complex events into basic elements and sequenced these elements into hierarchically structured expressions according to principles not observed in gestures accompanying speech in the surrounding language. Successive cohorts of learners extended this procedure, transforming Nicaraguan signing from its early gestural form into a linguistic system. We propose that this early segmentation and recombination reflect mechanisms with which children learn, and thereby perpetuate, language. Thus, children naturally possess learning abilities capable of giving language its fundamental structure.

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