First-Language Acquisition After Childhood Differs From Second-Language Acquisition The Case of American Sign Language Research Article
Research Article  |   December 01, 1993
First-Language Acquisition After Childhood Differs From Second-Language Acquisition
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Rachel I. Mayberry
    McGill University Montreal, Canada
  • Contact author: R. Mayberry, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University, Beatty Hall, 1266 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1A8, Canada.
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / Audiologic / Aural Rehabilitation / Augmentative & Alternative Communication / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   December 01, 1993
First-Language Acquisition After Childhood Differs From Second-Language Acquisition
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 1993, Vol. 36, 1258-1270. doi:10.1044/jshr.3606.1258
History: Received May 15, 1992 , Accepted August 2, 1993
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 1993, Vol. 36, 1258-1270. doi:10.1044/jshr.3606.1258
History: Received May 15, 1992; Accepted August 2, 1993

This study determined whether the long-range outcome of first-language acquisition, when the learning begins after early childhood, is similar to that of second-language acquisition. Subjects were 36 deaf adults who had contrasting histories of spoken and sign language acquisition. Twenty-seven subjects were born deaf and began to acquire American Sign Language (ASL) as a first language at ages ranging from infancy to late childhood. Nine other subjects were born with normal hearing, which they lost in late childhood; they subsequently acquired ASL as a second language (because they had acquired spoken English as a first language in early childhood). ASL sentence processing was measured by recall of long and complex sentences and short-term memory for signed digits. Subjects who acquired ASL as a second language after childhood outperformed those who acquired it as a first language at exactly the same age. In addition, the performance of the subjects who acquired ASL as a first language declined in association with increasing age of acquisition. Effects were most apparent for sentence processing skills related to lexical identification, grammatical acceptability, and memory for sentence meaning. No effects were found for skills related to fine-motor production and pattern segmentation.

Acknowledgments
The research reported here was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (DC00231). I thank Drucilla Ronchen for tireless ASL consulting and subject recruitment, Ellen Eichen for endless help transcribing and analyzing ASL utterances, and Shari Baum and Martha Crago for carefully reading earlier versions of the manuscript. I am especially grateful to the subjects for their willing participation and numerous insights into language and deafness.
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