Title: 'The Acquisition of ASL Verb Forms and the Development of Spatial Cognition in Young Children'
Track: 3 - Language Acquisition and Development
Keyword(s): language acquisition, cognitive development, toddlers, ASL
Learning Objectives:
  1. Identify the stages of children’s acquisition of verb conjugations in ASL.
  2. Identify the stages of children’s understanding of symbolic spatial representations.
  3. Explain how the relationship between these two processes sheds light on how the human brain acquires language.


In the linguistics community, a debate has long raged over how humans acquire language: does language acquisition occur merely as the by-product of general cognitive development coupled with the human drive to communicate, or does the brain come ready-made with a section devoted exclusively to the acquisition of language? This presentation will explore these issues through the third dimension, drawing from research on the acquisition of sign language – a three-dimensional language. Unlike gesture, language acquisition requires humans to learn to perceive and produce a system of symbols that other people have developed and to ascribe the same meaning to these symbols as these other people do. Language, however, is not the only communication medium that relies on these skills. All forms of standardized symbolic communication require that both users and producers come away with the same understanding. For example, maps and models use a symbolic system to convey spatial information. And like language, children do not understand maps and models right away. Rather, their capacity to understand and produce these kinds of communication develops over time. This presentation compiles research on young children’s acquisition of sign language and compares it to research on young children’s development of the ability to understand maps, models, and other symbolic representations of information. The relationship between the pattern of development of these separate skills sheds like on whether language acquisition occurs as a by-product of general cognitive development or independently of these other factors.
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Caroline Jackson - Primary Presenter
National Association of the Deaf
     Credentials: JD, MA, NIC
     Other Affiliations: Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
      Caroline Jackson is a staff attorney at the National Association of the Deaf. She began at NAD in 2012 as a Skadden Fellow, focusing on litigation and policy regarding special education services for deaf and hard of hearing students. In addition to this work, Caroline litigates to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing children and adults. She is also a co-instructor of the Civil Rights of Persons with Disabilities Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law. Prior to becoming an attorney, Caroline worked as a sign language interpreter in New York City where she also taught reading and writing in the Program for Deaf Adults at LaGuardia Community College.

Financial - No relevant financial relationship exist.

Nonfinancial - No relevant nonfinancial relationship exist.