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 January 25, 2015 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 January 25, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) — More schools are using online classes to keep from losing time to snow days, but it only works if students have Internet access at home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) — A Boston start-up is developing a wristband they say will help users break bad habits by jolting them with an electric shock. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

RightThisMinute (Jan. 23, 2015) — Not only is Kathy seeing her newborn son for the first time, but this is actually the first time she has ever seen a baby. Kathy and her sister, Yvonne, have been legally blind since childhood, but thanks to an amazing new technology, eSight glasses, which gives those who are legally blind the ability to see, she got the chance to see the birth of her son. It&apos;s an incredible moment and an even better story. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com
One Dose, Then Surgery to Test Tumor Drugs Fast

One Dose, Then Surgery to Test Tumor Drugs Fast

AP (Jan. 23, 2015) — A Phoenix hospital is experimenting with a faster way to test much needed medications for deadly brain tumors. Patients get a single dose of a potential drug, and hours later have their tumor removed to see if the drug had any affect. (Jan. 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