Learnability Constraints on Deaf Learners' Acquisition of English Wh-Questions This article explores deaf college students’ knowledge of English wh-question formation in the context of government-binding theory and an associated learnability theory. The parameters of universal grammar (UG) that are relevant to wh-question formation are identified, and predictions are made regarding the learning of the English values of these parameters ... Research Article
Research Article  |   June 01, 1996
Learnability Constraints on Deaf Learners' Acquisition of English Wh-Questions
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Gerald P. Berent
    National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY
  • Contact author: Gerald P. Berent, Department of Applied Language and Cognition Research, Center for Research, Teaching, and Learning, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, 52 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623–5604. E-mail: gpbnci@rit.edu
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   June 01, 1996
Learnability Constraints on Deaf Learners' Acquisition of English Wh-Questions
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1996, Vol. 39, 625-642. doi:10.1044/jshr.3903.625
History: Received August 1, 1995 , Accepted December 12, 1995
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1996, Vol. 39, 625-642. doi:10.1044/jshr.3903.625
History: Received August 1, 1995; Accepted December 12, 1995

This article explores deaf college students’ knowledge of English wh-question formation in the context of government-binding theory and an associated learnability theory. The parameters of universal grammar (UG) that are relevant to wh-question formation are identified, and predictions are made regarding the learning of the English values of these parameters in accordance with the subset principle, which, it has been proposed, guides the acquisition of UG parameter values that define languages ordered as proper subsets. The results of two learnability tasks revealed that, despite years of exposure to English language input, many deaf learners have not internalized the positive evidence required to set the marked values of the wh-question parameters. This finding provides strong empirical support for the subset principle. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.

Acknowledgments
This study was conducted at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, in the course of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. Some of the preliminary results of this study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics, New York, March 22–24,1991.1 would like to thank Vince Samar for his comments on the statistical design and discussion of other aspects of this study. I would also like to thank two anonymous JSHR reviewers for their recommendations for clarification and elaboration of important aspects of this manuscript.
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