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D MacLaughlin S McEwen eds Proceedings of the Boston University Conference on Language Development 19 543 552 Boston Cascadilla Press 1995 1994 Ann Senghas The Development of Nicaraguan Sign Language via the Language Acquisition Process Ann Senghas Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1 Introduction One of the central goals in research on language acquisition is to discover what knowledge and abilities children bring to the learning situation Never before in the history of language research has there been a better opportunity to ask this question as the current situation in Nicaragua where young children deprived of exposure to any language are inventing a new one Only sixteen years ago public schools for deaf children were first established in Nicaragua Despite the fact that these schools advocated an oral rather than signing approach to education they served as a magnet for a new community of deaf children who had not previously had contact with one another Consequently these children created their own indigenous sign language The language is not a simple code or gesture system it has already evolved into a full natural language It is independent from Spanish the spoken language of the region and is unrelated to American Sign Language ASL the sign language used in most of North America The present study examines how this first generation of signers is imposing grammatical structure on their sign language as it develops The method which guides this work is one that is central to language acquisition research by examining the structure evident in the children s sign language production and subtracting from that the portion present in the language to which the children were originally exposed one can discover the children s contribution 2 The development of Nicaraguan Sign Language Kegl Iwata 1989 described some of the earliest stages of Nicaraguan signing comparing it to ASL and evaluating its status as a creole So far two distinct forms of the sign language have

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