Send to

Choose Destination
Nature. 1998 Jan 15;391(6664):279-81.

Spontaneous sign systems created by deaf children in two cultures.

Author information

University of Chicago, Department of Psychology, Illinois 60637, USA.


Deaf children whose access to usable conventional linguistic input, signed or spoken, is severely limited nevertheless use gesture to communicate. These gestures resemble natural language in that they are structured at the level both of sentence and of word. Although the inclination to use gesture may be traceable to the fact that the deaf children's hearing parents, like all speakers, gesture as they talk, the children themselves are responsible for introducing language-like structure into their gestures. We have explored the robustness of this phenomenon by observing deaf children of hearing parents in two cultures, an American and a Chinese culture, that differ in their child-rearing practices and in the way gesture is used in relation to speech. The spontaneous sign systems developed in these cultures shared a number of structural similarities: patterned production and deletion of semantic elements in the surface structure of a sentence; patterned ordering of those elements within the sentence; and concatenation of propositions within a sentence. These striking similarities offer critical empirical input towards resolving the ongoing debate about the 'innateness' of language in human infants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Nature Publishing Group
Loading ...
Support Center