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The first signs of language: Phonological development in British sign language

Morgan, G., Barrett-Jones, S. & Stoneham, H. (2007). The first signs of language: Phonological development in British sign language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28(1), pp. 3-22. doi: 10.1017/s0142716407070014


A total of 1018 signs in one deaf child’s naturalistic interaction with her deaf mother, between the ages 19-24 months were analysed. This study summarises regular modification processes in the phonology of the child sign’s handshape, location, movement and prosody. Firstly changes to signs were explained by the notion of phonological markedness. Secondly, the child managed her production of first signs through two universal processes: structural change and substitution. Constraints unique to the visual modality also caused sign language specific acquisition patterns, namely: more errors for handshape articulation in locations in peripheral vision, a high frequency of whole sign repetitions and feature group rather than one-to-one phoneme substitutions as in spoken language development.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
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