Bilingual deaf learners’ written German profiles
Bilingual deaf learners are confronted with the task of attaining the oral language with no or only limited access to the spoken language. Although most of these learners are exposed to spoken language from birth, their acquisition of the language is bound to supportive measures outside the family context. Hence, this acquisition scenario differs from typical (monolingual or bilingual) L1 acquisition situations in that although exposure might occur from birth, the acquisition of the language occurs effectively at a later age because it is bound to a formal context. As we pointed out previously (section 1.3), the assignment of L1 or L2 labels to the languages acquired by deaf learners needs to be conceived of in a flexible manner. This holds equally of the acquisition situation of bilingual deaf learners that is neither adequately captured by the type of bilingual first or child second language acquisition.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing debate about the status of the written language (cf. section 2.4.2), we argued in favour of the Interdependence hypothesis of the relation of the spoken language and the written language. Further, we assume that the oral language grammar can be acquired effectively in written language acquisition by learners who have no or only limited access to the spoken language. Following this assumption the question arises about whether developmental trajectories in this acquisition scenario are similar to those observed in spoken language acquisition. Another fundamental issue pertains to the role of language contact phenomena in the course of the bilingual development.
In the following, we will provide a sketch of the grammatical properties of German that are at the focus in the present study as well as a summary of the main developmental milestones identified in the acquisition of German. The remainder of the chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the developmental profiles established for the participants in our study based on the diagnostic criteria elaborated for the assessment of the attainment of the target grammar.