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Letters to the Editor To the Editor: Many magazines and newspapers recently have recorded about closed captioning which will soon begin on ABC, NBC, and PBS. The reports have said PBS will end its open-caption service. Open captions are available on all TV sets without any special equipment. We at WGBH in Boston want viewers of "The Captioned ABC News" to know that our program will continue with open captions on almost all of the 180 PBS stations which now show The Captioned News. PBS and WGBH have no plans to end this service, which will not subtract from the 10 hours of closed-caption programs PBS hopes to broadcast each week. "The Captioned ABC News" began in 1973 and has been offered to PBS stations every weeknight since August 1974. Carole Osterer, Dir. 125 Western Ave. Boston, MA 02134 To the Editor: In a recent article, Clark and Sewell (Annals, Dec. 1979) have critiqued our work (Annals, Aug. 1978). While we are interested in their criticisms as well as their positive comments, we wish to respond to several of their points. First, we do not believe that proficiency in sign language inhibits a deaf child's acquisition of structures like the passive any more than knowledge of the common active voice in English inhibits a hearing child's acquisition of the passive. Both hearing and deaf children acquire an anomalous structure like the passive later than the more common active voice precisely because the passive violates the word order rule they have already generated from experiences with language, be it Ameslan or English. In other words, both deaf and hearing children create language rules and produce structures based on their best guesses about what form of syntax these structures should take. Within the experiences of both deaf and hearing children, most words or signs that occupy a subject position in the sentence happen to be subjects or agents rather than objects. Because this is true of both English and Ameslan syntax, it is not familiarity with sign language per se that predisposes the deaf child toward a subjectverb -object (S-V-O) interpretation of most sentences. A second point we wish to clarify is that of the superior reading achievement of deaf students born to deaf parents and its relation to signing. Sign language, when acquired as a native language, may facilitate the acquisition of other language skills like understanding written English precisely because sign language is itself a language system. Many of these native signers may not speak at all, yet they demonstrate more control over the linguistic conventions of written English than their more "oral" or English speaking deaf peers. This suggests that speech ability and languaging ability are not synonomous. Just as gestures, be they signs or body movements, in and of themselves, do not constitute language, neither does the production of speech sounds constitute language.* Because reading is based on language knowledge , children who are proficient language users , whether their language is Ameslan or English , signed or oral, have an advantage over those who are not. A third point raised by Clark and Sewell questions the facultative effect of context on deaf students' understanding of complex syntax . In our original article, we argued strongly that the facultative role of familiar context cannot be underestimated. Subsequently, we have conducted studies attempting to address this notion empirically. Findings in these studies highlight the salient importance of world knowledge in comprehending text as well as the overall importance of context in comprehension. We have maintained that the embedding of atypical sentences within familiar content will allow the reader the opportunity to revise an incorrectly interpreted sentence because of intersentence information provided in discourse. Clark and Sewell counterargue that "Although this is a possibility, it is also feasible that the child will not deviate from an earlier hypothesis and will interpret the remainder of the passage in such a way as to be consistent with the initial hypotheses." They continue that "This is particularly likely in passages where there is little contradictory evidence to force a change in hypothesis." Our research evidence clearly demonstrates that familiar context generally *For a more thorough discussion of what constitutes a language...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
pp. 453-454
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-22
Open Access
No
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