Acquisition of prosody in American Sign Language

George Wolford, Purdue University


The focus of this work is on the prosodic acquisition of native Deaf children acquiring American Sign Language (ASL). Discussion of the acquisition is centered on prosodic elements: phrase-final sign duration lengthening, phrase-final transition duration lengthening, blinks, eyebrow behavior, head tilts, body tilts, and drop hands. Data was acquired from four adult signers, five older children (7;8-8;5) and two younger children (5;0-5;3) naturally acquiring ASL. The task was to retell, in ASL, a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. The results demonstrate that there is a varied profile of acquisition across the cues. The younger children are already using all cues to some degree, but the adult-like patterns of use are not acquired until later. Patterns of acquisition in this data support that generally the cues start to emerge at the utterance boundaries before the I-phrase boundary. Head tilts are a very early acquired cue. Sign duration lengthening, transition lengthening, and blinks are mostly acquired by the older children. However, brow behavior, body tilts and drop hands are all relatively later acquired. The patterns reflect spoken language patterns of some cues being relatively early acquired while others are later acquired (Dankovicova , 2004; Patel & Brayton, 2009; Wells et al., 2004).




Brentari, Purdue University.

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