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Susan Goldin-Meadow


Email: sgm AT uchicago DOT edu
Areas of interest: Hearing gesture, Language, Psychology


I have been engaged in a research program to identify the properties of language whose development can withstand wide variations in learning conditions – the “resilient” properties of language. My students and I have observed children who have not been exposed to conventional linguistic input in order to determine which properties of language can be developed under one set of severely degraded input conditions. The children we study are deaf with hearing losses so extensive that they cannot naturally acquire oral language. In addition, they are born to hearing parents who have not yet exposed them to sign language.  My current work asks whether deaf children across the globe who lack conventional language will develop structured gesture systems. In this work, we focus on the resilience of various properties of language in the face of wide cultural variation. We are currently studying the gesture systems invented by deaf children of hearing parents in four cultures – Spanish, Turkish, Chinese, and American. By comparing different gesture models that speakers of Spanish and Turkish vs. English and Mandarin present to the deaf child, we will have a paradigm within which to observe the relation between adult input and child output – and a unique opportunity to observe the child’s skills as language-maker.