Acquisition of locative expressions in children learning Turkish Sign Language (TİD) and Turkish

In sign languages, where space is often used to talk about space, expressions of spatial relations (e.g., ON, IN, UNDER, BEHIND) may rely on analogue mappings of real space onto signing space. In contrast, spoken languages express space in mostly categorical ways (e.g. adpositions). This raises interesting questions about the role of language modality in the acquisition of expressions of spatial relations. However, whether and to what extent modality influences the acquisition of spatial language is controversial – mostly due to the lack of direct comparisons of Deaf children to Deaf adults and to age-matched hearing children in similar tasks. Furthermore, the previous studies have taken English as the only model for spoken language development of spatial relations. Therefore, we present a balanced study in which spatial expressions by deaf and hearing children in two different age-matched groups (preschool children and school-age children) are systematically compared, as well as compared to the spatial expressions of adults. All participants performed the same tasks, describing angular (LEFT, RIGHT, FRONT, BEHIND) and non-angular spatial configurations (IN, ON, UNDER) of different objects (e.g. apple in box; car behind box). The analysis of the descriptions with non-angular spatial relations does not show an effect of modality on the development of locative expressions in TİD and Turkish. However, preliminary results of the analysis of expressions of angular spatial relations suggest that signers provide angular information in their spatial descriptions more frequently than Turkish speakers in all three age groups, and thus showing a potentially different developmental pattern in this domain. Implications of the findings with regard to the development of relations in spatial language and cognition will be discussed.
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