Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-jhnrh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-05T22:06:37.628Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Differentiation in language and gesture use during early bilingual development of hearing children of Deaf parents*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 November 2014

University of Oulu, Finland
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
University of Oulu and University Hospital of Oulu, Finland
Address for correspondence: Laura Kanto, Faculty of Humanities, Logopedics, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 1000, FI-90014 Oulun yliopisto,


Hearing children of Deaf parents simultaneously acquire sign language and spoken language, which have many structural differences and represent two different modalities. We video-recorded eight children every six months between the ages of 12 and 24 months during three different play sessions: with their Deaf parent, with the Deaf parent and a hearing adult, and with a hearing adult alone. Additionally, we collected data on their vocabulary development in both sign language and spoken language. Children as young as 12 months old accommodated their language use according to the language(s) of their interlocutor(s). Additionally, the children used a manual modality that included gestures more frequently and in a more diverse way when interacting with their Deaf parent than with a hearing person. These findings bring new knowledge about language differentiation and gesture use of bilingual children during the early phases of language acquisition.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This work was supported in part by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the Southern Ostrobothnia Hospital District's grant number EVO198, and the Ministry of Education and Culture. We are especially grateful to all the families that participated in this study and committed themselves to the longitudinal follow-up. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.


Anderson, D., & Reilly, J. (2002). The MacArthur communicative development inventory: Normative data for American Sign Language. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 7, 83106.Google Scholar
Bishop, M., & Hicks, S. L. (eds.) (1990). Hearing, mother father deaf: Hearing people in deaf families. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.Google Scholar
Bonvillian, J. D., Orlansky, M. D., & Folven, R. J. (1994). Early sign language acquisition: Implications for theories of language acquisition. In Volterra & Erting (eds.), pp. 219232.Google Scholar
Butcher, C., Mylander, C., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1991). Displaced communication in a self-styled gesture system: Pointing at the nonpresent. Cognitive Development, 6, 315342.Google Scholar
Capirci, O., Iverson, J. M., Montanari, S., & Volterra, V. (2002). Gestural, signed and spoken modalities in early language development: The role of linguistic input. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 5, 2537.Google Scholar
Capirci, O., Contaldo, A., Caselli, M. C., & Volterra, V. (2005). From action to language through gesture: A longitudinal perspective. Gesture, 5, 155177.Google Scholar
Casey, S., & Emmorey, K. (2009). Co-speech gesture in bimodal bilinguals. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24, 290312.Google Scholar
Cenoz, J., & Genesee, F. (eds.) Trends in bilingual acquisition. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Cheek, A., Cromier, K., Repp, A., & Meier, R. (2001). Prelinguistic gesture predicts mastery and error in the production of early signs. Language, 77, 292323.Google Scholar
Comeau, L., Genesee, F., & Lapaquette, L. (2003). The modeling hypothesis and child bilingual code-mixing. International Journal of Bilingualism, 2, 113126.Google Scholar
Deuchar, M., & Quay, S. (2000). Bilingual acquisition: Theoretical implications of a case study. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Emmorey, K., Borinstein, H. B., Thompson, R., & Gollan, T. H. (2008). Bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11, 4661.Google Scholar
Emmorey, K., & Herzig, M. (2003). Categorical versus gradient properties of classifier constructions in ASL. In Emmorey, K. (ed.), Perspectives on classifier constructions in signed languages. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Thal, D. J., Bates, E., Hartung, P. P., Pethick, S., & Reilly, J. S. (1991). MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University.Google Scholar
Genesee, F. (1989). Early bilingual development, one language or two? Journal of Child Language, 16, 161179.Google Scholar
Genesee, F., Boivin, I., & Nicoladis, E. (1996). Talking with strangers: A study of bilingual children's communicative competence. Applied Psycholinguistics, 17, 427442.Google Scholar
Genesee, F., Nicoladis, E., & Paradis, J. (1995). Language differentiation in early bilingual development. Journal of Child Language, 22, 611631.Google Scholar
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Goldin-Meadow, S., & Mylander, C. (1984). Gestural communication in deaf children: The effects and non-effects of parental input on early language development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 49, 1151.Google Scholar
Goodwyn, S. W., & Acredolo, L. P. (1998). Encouraging symbolic gestures: A new perspective on the relationship between gesture and speech. New Directions for Child Development, 79, 6173.Google Scholar
Hatzopoulou, M. (2008). Acquisition of reference to self and others in Greek Sign Language: From pointing gesture to pronominal pointing. Ph.D. dissertation, Stockholm University.Google Scholar
Hoiting, N., & Slobin, D. I. (2007). From gestures to signs in the acquisition of sign language. In Duncan, S. D., Cassell, J. & Levy, E. T. (eds.), Gesture and the dynamic dimension of language: Essays in honor of David McNeill, pp. 5165. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Huttunen, K. H., & Pine, K. (2012). Communication culture and gesture use. In Toyota, J., Hallonsten, P. & Shchepetunina, M. (eds.), Sense of emptiness: An interdisciplinary approach, pp. 94111. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
Huttunen, K. H., Pine, K. J., Thurnham, A. J., & Khan, C. (2013). The changing role of gesture in linguistic development: A developmental trajectory and a cross-cultural comparison between British and Finnish children. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 42, 81101.Google Scholar
Iverson, J. M., Capirci, O., Longobardi, E., & Caselli, M. C. (1999). Gesturing in mother--child interaction. Cognitive Development, 14, 5775.Google Scholar
Iverson, J. M., Capirci, O., Volterra, V., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2008). Learning to talk in a gesture-rich world: Early communication in Italian vs. American children. First Language, 28, 164181.Google Scholar
Iverson, J. M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science, 16, 367371.Google Scholar
Jakkula, K. (2002). Esineiden antaminen. Kehityksen peili ja kieltä ennakoiva sosiaalinen merkki 9–34 kuukauden iässä [Giving objects: A mirror of development and a social sign anticipating language acquisition of 9–34 months old children] (Acta Universitatis Ouluensis, Series E, Scientiae Rerum Socialium 52). Oulu: University of Oulu.Google Scholar
Kanto, L., Huttunen, K. H., & Laakso, M.-L. (2013). Relationship between the linguistic environment and early bilingual language development of hearing children in Deaf-parented families. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 18, 242260.Google Scholar
Laakso, M., Helasvuo, M.-L., & Savinainen-Makkonen, T. (2010). Children's early actions in learning language: A study of proto-words and pointing gestures in interaction between one-year-old child and parent. SKY Journal of Linguistics, 23, 199226.Google Scholar
Lausberg, H., & Sloetjes, H. (2009). Coding gestural behavior with the NEUROGES-ELAN system. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 41, 841849.Google Scholar
Liddell, S. K. (2003). Grammar, gesture, and meaning in American Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Lyytinen, P. (1999). Varhaisen kommunikaation ja kielen kehityksen arviointimenetelmä [Assessment method of early communication and language development]. Jyväskylä: Niilo Mäki Instituutti & Jyväskylän yliopiston lapsitutkimuskeskus.Google Scholar
Mallory, B., Zingle, H., & Schein, J. (1993). Intergenerational communication modes in Deaf-parented families. Sign Language Studies, 78, 7389.Google Scholar
Maneva, B., & Genesee, F. (2002). Bilingual babbling: Evidence for language differentiation in dual language acquisition. In Skarabela, B., Fish, S. & Do, A. H.-J. (eds.), Proceedings of the 26th Boston University Conference on Language Development (vol. 2), pp. 383392. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Meisel, J. M. (2001). The simultaneous acquisition of two languages. Early differentiation and subsequent development of grammar. In Cenoz & Genesee (eds.), pp. 11–41.Google Scholar
Montanari, S. (2009). Pragmatic differentiation in early trilingual development. Journal of child language, 36, 597627.Google Scholar
Morgenstern, A., Caët, S., & Collombel-Leroy, M. (2010). From gesture to sign and from gesture to word: Pointing in deaf and hearing children. Gesture, 10, 172201.Google Scholar
Nicoladis, E., & Genesee, F. (1996). A longitudinal study of pragmatic differentiation in young bilingual children. Language Learning, 46, 439464.Google Scholar
Nicoladis, E., Mayberry, R., & Genesee, F. (1999). Gesture and early bilingual development. Developmental Psychology, 35, 514526.Google Scholar
Nicoladis, E., & Secco, G. (2000). The role of a child's productive vocabulary in the language choice of a bilingual family. First Language, 20, 328.Google Scholar
Nicoladis, E., Pika, S., & Marentette, P. (2009). Do French–English bilingual children gesture more than monolingual children? Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 38, 573585.Google Scholar
Papoušëk, M. (2012). From the start: Integration of affect and language in parent–infant interactions. Infant Mental Health Journal, 33, 585589.Google Scholar
Paradis, J. (2001). Do bilingual two-year-olds have separate phonological systems? International Journal of Bilingualism, 5, 1938.Google Scholar
Paradis, J., & Genesee, F. (1996). Syntactic acquisition in bilingual children: Autonomous or independent? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 125.Google Scholar
Paradis, J., & Nicoladis, E. (2007). The influence of dominance and sociolinguistic context on bilingual preschoolers’ language choice. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10, 277297.Google Scholar
Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, S. C., & Oller, D. K. (1995). Cross-language synonyms in the lexicon of bilingual infants: One system or two? Journal of Child Language, 28, 453496.Google Scholar
Petitto, L. A. (1988). “Language” in the pre-linguistic child. In Kessel, F. (ed.), The development of language and language researchers: Essays in honor of Roger Brown, pp. 187221. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Petitto, L. A. (1994). The transition from gesture to symbol in American Sign Language. In Volterra & Erting (eds.), pp. 153–161.Google Scholar
Petitto, L. A., Katerelos, M., Levy, B., Gauna, K., Tétreault, K., & Ferraro, V. (2001). Bilingual signed and spoken language acquisition from birth: Implications for the mechanisms underlying early bilingual language acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 28, 453496.Google Scholar
Petitto, L. A., & Marentette, P. (1991). Babbling in the manual mode: evidence for the ontogeny of language. Science, 22, 14961496.Google Scholar
Pika, S., Nicoladis, E., & Marentette, P. F. (2006). A cross-cultural study on the use of gestures: Evidence for cross-linguistic transfer? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 319327.Google Scholar
Poulin-Dubois, D., & Goodz, N. (2001). Language differentiation in bilingual infants: Evidence from babbling. In Cenoz & Genesee (eds.), pp. 95–106.Google Scholar
Preston, P. (1994). Mother father deaf: Living between sound and silence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Sarimski, K. (2002). Analysis of intentional communication in severely handicapped children with Cornelia-de-Lange syndrome. Journal of Communication Disorders, 35, 483500.Google Scholar
Sherman, J., & Nicoladis, E. (2004). Gestures by advanced Spanish--English second-language learners. Gesture, 4, 143156.Google Scholar
Van den Bogaerde, B., & Baker, A. E. (2008). Bimodal language acquisition in Kodas. In Bishop & Hicks (eds.), pp. 99–131.Google Scholar
Vihman, M. M., & McCune, L. (1994). When is a word a word? Journal of Child Language, 21, 517542.Google Scholar
Volterra, V., & Iverson, J. M. (1995). When do modality factors affect the course of language acquisition? In Emorrey, K. & Reilly, J. (eds.), Language, gesture, and space, pp. 371390. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Volterra, V., & Erting, C. J. (eds.), From gesture to language in hearing and deaf children. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.Google Scholar
Volterra, V., Iverson, J. M., & Castrataro, M. (2005). The development of gesture in hearing and deaf children. In Schick, B., Marschark, M. & Spencer, P. (eds.), Advances in sign language development by deaf children, pp. 4670. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Volterra, V., & Taeschner, T. (1978). The acquisition and development of language by bilingual children. Journal of Child Language, 5, 311326.Google Scholar
Woolfe, T., Herman, R., Roy, P., & Woll, B. (2010). Early vocabulary development in deaf native signers: A British Sign Language adaptation of the communicative development inventories. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 322333.Google Scholar
Wilhelm, A., (2008). Sociolinguistic aspects of the communication between hearing children and deaf parents. In Bishop & Hicks (eds.), pp. 162–194.Google Scholar