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Bilingual Deaf Students’ Phonological Awareness in ASL and Reading Skills in English

From: Sign Language Studies
Volume 14, Number 1, Fall 2013
pp. 80-100 | 10.1353/sls.2013.0028



The sources of knowledge that individuals use to make similarity judgments about words are thought to tap underlying phonological representations. This study addresses the issue of segmental representation by investigating bilingual deaf students’ (a) awareness of American Sign Language (ASL) phonological structure; (b) the relationships between ASL phonological awareness (ASL-PA) and written English word recognition and reading comprehension skill, and (c) the question of whether age and/or reading ability would differentially affect performance on an ASL-PA task in fifty bilingual deaf children (ages 7–18) attending schools for deaf children in Western Canada. In the ASL-PA task, minimal contrasts between ASL parameters (handshape, movement, and location; H, M, and L, respectively) were systematically manipulated. The results show significant differences in deaf students’ ASL phonological awareness, with discrimination accuracy improving with age and reading ability. Significant relationships between children’s second language (L2) reading skills and first language (L1) phonological awareness skills were found. Evidence of rich metalinguistic knowledge that children with developing L1 phonological skills bring to the acquisition of L2 reading skills may have practical implications for the education of bilingual deaf children.

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