From pre-symbolic gestures to language

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In this article we will discuss the early development in deaf children and the interaction between linguistic, cognitive, and emotional factors. In this context we will consider the model of Piaget (1962), in which the early stages of development are stated and a pre-linguistic-symbolic form of a toddler’s intelligence is recognised. In addition to Piaget’s initial ideas we will focus especially on the function of gestures in mother-child-communication, which also occur in a hearing toddler’s development and have been dubbed Baby Signs by Acredolo and Goodwyn (2002). These gestures will be discussed as pre-symbolic signals that enable early communication and have a distinctive function in the transitional process towards language acquisition. Subsequently it will be argued that a holistic perspective on the development of deaf children should include all means of early communication in order to provide a cognitive, linguistic, and emotional environment as stimulating as possible. We will conclude that an early intervention philosophy, which includes signs or sign languages, embraces such a perspective on deaf children’s linguistic and cognitive development and can help to address their psycho-emotional needs. Keywords: deaf children; early communication; social-emotional development; language acquisition; early intervention; baby signs; sign language; bilingual education


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