Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Finds There's A Critical Time For Learning All Languages, Including Sign Language

Date:
January 3, 2002
Source:
University Of Washington
Summary:
Neuroscientists examining the brain activity of people who learned to speak American Sign Language (ASL) at different times in their lives have found the first evidence that there is a critical period for acquiring a non-verbal language, just as there is for spoken languages.

Neuroscientists examining the brain activity of people who learned to speak American Sign Language (ASL) at different times in their lives have found the first evidence that there is a critical period for acquiring a non-verbal language, just as there is for spoken languages.

Related Articles


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers discovered patterns of brain activity in bilingual people who learned ASL before puberty differed from those who learned it after puberty.

The findings are reported in this month’s issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience. They indicate there are regions in the brain’s right hemisphere that are activated when children who learned ASL before puberty are reading sign language. The brains of children who learned ASL after puberty show significantly less right hemisphere activity when they are doing the same activity.

There is widespread acceptance among neuroscientists that there is a critical period for first language acquisition, and that children who are not exposed to any language before puberty, or perhaps sooner, are unable to fully acquire and use the principles of language. There also is evidence of similar critical periods for acquiring a second language.

“We know that late learners of ASL, while they are very fluent, never will be fully fluent like native, or early, learners of ASL,” said David Corina, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology and a co-author of the study. Corina is fluent in ASL.

“One aspect of ASL that is difficult for late learners is verb signs of motion. You see some subtle errors in their use of these verbs, just as you might detect subtle grammatical differences when listening to bilingual users of a spoken language when they are not using their native tongue.”

Other members of the research team are Aaron Newman, a University of Oregon doctoral student; Helen Neville, University of Oregon psychology professor; Daphne Bavelier, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, and Peter Jezzard, a physicist at John Radcliffe Hospital in England.

The new study builds on earlier work by this research team showing that right hemisphere activity, along with activation in the left hemisphere, is necessary for processing ASL. The left hemisphere activity has long been associated with the processing of spoken languages.

“One area of the brain that is the signature, or specific, to signers if they learned ASL as a native signer, is the right angular gyrus,” Corina said.

It is located at the juncture of the temporal and parietal lobes. Activation of the left angular gyrus has been associated with reading English and other spoken languages for many years. The new study shows consistent activation of the right angular gyrus among native signers and some, but not consistent, activation of that brain region among late signers.

The study involved 27 bilingual subjects. Sixteen were hearing persons born to deaf parents. They learned ASL and English from birth as native languages. The remaining 11 were the late learners who had English as their native language and learned ASL after puberty, in early adulthood. All of the subjects watched a screen while their brains were imaged using fMRI and were asked to read written English sentences and meaningless strings of consonants. They also were shown and asked to read ASL sentences and meaningless gestures that were similar to real ASL signs.

“This work is important because we want to understand the neural systems underlying language,” said Corina. “We want to know if they are malleable or fixed and the degree to which they may vary in different languages. We now know there is activation in the right hemisphere when native signers view ASL, and to see that this is dependent on early exposure suggests there are specific times when neural systems for language may be particularly sensitive to change.”

He added that the research has implications for early education of all children because it stressed the need for early language exposure at critical times in development. And now, it is equally important in education for the deaf to ensure linguistic competency in ASL.

The National Institute of Deafness and Communicative Disorders, the National Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, the Charles A. Dana Foundation and a University of Oregon post-graduate scholarship funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Washington. "Study Finds There's A Critical Time For Learning All Languages, Including Sign Language." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 January 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020103074506.htm>.
University Of Washington. (2002, January 3). Study Finds There's A Critical Time For Learning All Languages, Including Sign Language. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020103074506.htm
University Of Washington. "Study Finds There's A Critical Time For Learning All Languages, Including Sign Language." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020103074506.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins