Outline of the work

We begin our work on bilingualism and deafness with a section dedicated to the broader framework of bilingualism as a societal phenomenon (section 1.2). The discussion will focus on the variables that distinguish different types of bilingualism at the societal level and language planning measures in a given social space (section 1.2.1). We will then narrow the focus on sign bilingualism (section 1.2.2) with a view to identifying the main factors that determine the development and maintenance of this type of bilingualism, intimately bound, as will become apparent, to the status attributed to sign languages and related language planning policies (section 1.2.3). Education, the domain of language policy par excellence, is the topic of section 1.3. In this section we provide a critical appraisal of sign bilingual education by examining the main objectives of this type of bilingual education (section 1.3.1) and the spectrum of its variation (section 1.3.2).

In chapter 2 we turn our attention to bilingual language acquisition in deaf children from a developmental linguistics perspective. We elaborate on the theoretical framework of the empirical study we have undertaken on the bilingual acquisition of sign language and oral language in deaf children. In section 2.1 we sketch the type of knowledge that is acquired at the grammatical level. In section 2.2 we summarise the main hypotheses about how this knowledge is acquired and sketch the UG based dynamic model of language acquisition we developed in earlier work and used as a framework in this work. Current hypotheses about language separation and interaction in bilingual language acquisition are summarised in section 2.3. We then narrow the focus on bilingual deaf learners (section 2.4), and address the main questions that arise regarding their acquisition of two languages that differ in their modality of expression and accessibility. Because of the specific circumstances that determine the acquisition of the written language in this population special attention is paid to available assumptions about the relationship between the spoken language and the written language. Another central issue concerns the role of language contact phenomena in the course of the bilingual development.

Chapters 3 and 4 concern our investigation of the acquisition of German Sign Language (DGS, Deutsche Gebardensprache) and written German in bilingually educated deaf students. For each of the two languages we elaborate a descriptive framework of the grammatical properties investigated as well as the diagnostic criteria we used to assess the participants command of DGS and German, based on what is known about the main developmental milestones in either language. The participants’ profiles in DGS and German are presented and discussed in chapters 3 and 4 respectively. We conclude with a final discussion and summary in chapter 5.

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