Title: 'How the Human Child Discovers Language: New Insights from the Neural Foundations of Language, The Bilingual Brain, and the Visual Phonological Mind'
Track: -
Keyword(s): Visual Phonology; the bilingual brain; the reading brain, neural plasticity of visual attention, visual processing, higher cognition, reading and literacy advantages; early signed language exposure
Learning Objectives:
  1. Identification of common beliefs about very early sign language exposure and its impact on the acquisition of spoken language and early reading: Evidence from universal maturational language milestones in monolingual and bilingual children.
  2. Discovery of the existence of “Visual Phonology” and its facilitative role in early reading acquisition in all young deaf visual learners: Revolutionary insights from the phonological mind as informed by the human eye.
  3. Discovery of a new kind of bilingualism in the young deaf child and implications for the education of all young deaf children: Using visual advantages present in all deaf and hard of hearing children (including those with and without early signed language exposure) to create powerful learning and teaching innovations for the young deaf child.


How does the extraordinary journey of human language acquisition begin in our species? What unique capacities are humans born with – and what core properties are in the environmental input – that are crucial for this remarkable feat to be achieved? This talk will provide an overview, spanning more than 37 years, of the major projects led by Cognitive Neuroscientist and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist Professor Laura Ann Petitto. She will highlight her major discoveries and what they mean regarding the neural representation of human language and how it begins in our species. Dr. Petitto will identify the different technologies and populations that she has used to make different discoveries about human language, including modern brain imaging technology that permits her to look inside of the tiny infant’s brain, functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). Topics will span her cross-species research involving apes and humans; the nature of early human language acquisition (its universal milestones, structures, and representation in the human brain), and, crucially, the brain tissue that supports it; the structure, grammar and representation of natural signed languages of Deaf people, especially American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des Signes Quebecoise (LSQ), and what human signed languages teach us about the essential/core properties of language in our species; the nature of bilingual infants, children, and adult bilingual language and reading development, processing, and brain organization, with key comparisons to monolinguals. To be sure, new insights into “The Bilingual Brain” and the “Phonological Mind” will be revealed.
Presentation: Watch Plenary III: How the Human Child Discovers Language: New Insights from the Neural Foundations of Language, The Bilingual Brain, and the Visual Phonological Mind>
Handouts: Handout is not Available

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Laura-Ann Petitto - POC,Primary Presenter
      Professor Laura Ann Petitto is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and a Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist. Formerly at the University of Toronto, Petitto was recently recruited to serve as the Co-Principal Investigator, and Science Director, of the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Center, “Visual Language and Visual Learning, VL2” at Gallaudet University – one of only 6 Centers in the nation. She is also a full Professor in the Department of Psychology at Gallaudet University, an affiliated full Professor in the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University, and the Scientific Director of her own Neuroimaging Laboratory called the Brain and Language Laboratory, BL2. She is known for her discoveries concerning language and its neural representation in the human brain, and how young human children acquire language, including shared/universal signed and spoken language processing sites and systems in the brain. Petitto received her Masters and Doctoral degrees from Harvard University in 1981 and 1984 (respectively). Petitto has won continuous (non-interrupted) Federal and/or Foundation funding for her research for the past 36 years. She is the recipient of over 20 international prizes and awards for her scientific achievements and discoveries, including the 1998 Guggenheim Award for her “unusually distinguished achievements in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.” In 2009, Dr. Petitto received the distinct honor of being appointed a lifetime Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a lifetime Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Petitto speaks English, French, Italian and is a fluent signer of American Sign Language (ASL). For more information about Professor Petitto see http://petitto.gallaudet.edu/~petitto/index/

Financial - No relevant financial relationship exist.

Nonfinancial - No relevant nonfinancial relationship exist.