MECHANISMS UNDERLYING SIGN LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND USE

NIH GUIDE, Volume 23, Number 29, August 5, 1994



PA NUMBER:  PA-94-091



P.T. 34



Keywords:

  Hearing 

  Language Acquisition & Development 



National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders



PURPOSE



The understanding of the mechanisms by which deaf and hearing

individuals acquire and use a manual communication system is limited.

Research is needed to determine optimal conditions for such learning,

prerequisite abilities for successful acquisition and use of a manual

system, as well as the interindividual variations of acquisition of

manual communication.  The National Institute on Deafness and Other

Communication Disorders (NIDCD) encourages applications for the support

of studies of the sensory, perceptual, cognitive, neural, and molecular

mechanisms underlying acquisition and use of a signed language.



HEALTHY PEOPLE 2000



The Public Health Service (PHS) is committed to achieving the health

promotion and disease prevention objectives of "Healthy People 2000,"

a PHS-led national activity for setting priority areas.  This Program

Announcement (PA), Mechanisms Underlying Sign Language Acquisition and

Use, is related to the priority area of diabetes and chronic disabling

conditions and, special population objectives.  Potential applicants

may obtain a copy of "Healthy People 2000" (Full Report:  Stock No.

017-001-11474-0) or "Healthy People 2000" (Summary Report:  Stock No.

017-001-11473-1) through the Superintendent of Documents, Government

Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402-9325 (telephone 202-783-3238).



ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS



Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign, for-profit and

non-profit organizations, public and private, such as universities,

colleges, hospitals, laboratories, units of state and local

governments, and eligible agencies of the Federal government.  Foreign

institutions are not eligible for First Independent Research Support

and Transition (FIRST) (R29) awards.  Applications from minority

individuals, women, and individuals with disabilities are encouraged.



MECHANISM OF SUPPORT



The support mechanisms for grants in this area will be the individual

investigator-initiated research project grant (R01) and the FIRST (R29)

award.



RESEARCH OBJECTIVES



A large proportion of individuals born deaf or who lose their hearing

before they acquire spoken language use a form of sign language as

their primary mode of communication, either English-language based

signing systems or American Sign Language (ASL).  Research is needed to

increase the understanding of the processes that underlie the

acquisition and use of a manual communication system by deaf

individuals.  Studies concerning the processes and bases of sign

language acquisition and use may identify the optimal conditions for

learning a manual sign system.  This will lead to the development of a

model of language that can address the relationship of spoken and

signed languages and may also help delineate new methods of

successfully introducing and using English with deaf children.



Acquisition and processing of signed languages.  Language acquisition

for deaf children with signing deaf parents typically involves use of

American Sign Language (ASL).  Previous research, although limited, has

indicated that in those individuals exposed to ASL from birth,

linguistic competence, on-line sentence processing and underlying

neural mechanisms for language may be similar to those found in hearing

users of native spoken languages.  Additional studies are needed of

cognitive, motor, neural, and molecular processes involved in

acquisition of ASL among deaf children of deaf parents.  A better

understanding also is needed of typical patterns of sign language

development, and the processes involved in perception and production of

sign language in deaf children of hearing parents.  Recent evidence

suggests that increasing numbers of hearing parents are using sign

communication with their deaf children.  They commonly use

English-based signing, but there is a growing interest in the use of

ASL by hearing parents and siblings.  There is also a need for

additional studies of patterns of acquisition and the cognitive, motor,

neural, and molecular processes involved in signing.  Recent research

findings, concerning the acquisition of ASL by deaf children of hearing

parents at various ages beyond infancy, indicate that there is a

critical period for the acquisition of ASL, just as there is for the

acquisition of spoken languages by hearing individuals.  Competency in

and efficiency of processing ASL appears to be related to age of

exposure to ASL, with a decline in competency and efficiency and

possible changes in neural organization for later learners.   A full

explanation of this phenomenon awaits further investigation.



Cognitive, perceptual, and motor processes, and psychosocial issues

related to sign language acquisition and use.  Acquisition of the

ability to employ a signed language depends on the development of a

number of interrelated cognitive and linguistic abilities that

contribute to the perception and production of sign language.  In

addition, the nonlinguistic/cognitive outcomes in deaf children exposed

to various kinds of sign language are undocumented and warrant

investigation.  The relation of cognitive and psychosocial development

to sign language acquisition and use requires further investigation.

Sign language production makes use of space and movement; thus the

perception of sign language requires the processing of complex arrays

of dynamic motion.  Investigations are needed of sign language

perception, particularly the processing of motion and form and how such

visual-dynamic information is processed linguistically.  Comparison of

the processes of spoken language perception and signed language

perception in hearing and deaf individuals provides a unique means of

determining those aspects of language that are independent of the

modality (signed or spoken) of communication.



Neural underpinnings of sign language acquisition and use.  The

interface of sign language acquisition to other biological phenomena is

important to our understanding of brain-behavior relationships.

Electrophysiologic findings indicate that, in spite of the very

different input/output systems employed, the same or similar areas in

the left hemisphere of the brain are involved in language tasks in

native ASL signers as in speakers of English.  However, studies of this

type, examining the organization of the brain and its relation to sign

language acquisition and use, are limited.  Studies of brain mapping of

sign language function are needed, as are continued investigations of

differences and similarities in the way the brain processes spoken and

signed languages.  Questions remain concerning the ways in which

cortical organization may be influenced by age of acquisition and by

early perceptual and linguistic experience.



Examples of issues to be addressed in applications submitted in

response to this Program Announcement include, but are not limited to,

the following:



o  The acquisition of ASL or other signing systems in children exposed

to these languages from birth as well as in children whose access to a

first natural language is delayed or incomplete;



o  The relation between cognitive and psychosocial development and the

acquisition of ASL in deaf children of deaf parents and in deaf

children of hearing parents;



o  The relation of infants' early acquisition of sign language

phonology, assessed through tests of sign perception, to the

acquisition of other levels of a signed language, such as the

acquisition of signs (lexicon), sign meanings (semantics) and

grammatical constructions (syntax);



o  The underlying perceptual and motor processes in sign language, for

example, basic and higher level processes underlying the perception and

use of space, form and movement in sign language;



o  The nature of parallel processing of simultaneous visual and

auditory information in deaf children and adults;



o  Identification and characterization of the neural systems that

underlie the representation, perception and production of signed

languages in both adults and children using, when appropriate,

techniques such as measuring event-related potentials and imaging

technology;



o  The specialization of the cerebral hemispheres for language and

other types of cognitive processing in deaf individuals, including the

ways in which the neural organization and function of the basic sensory

systems may be changed by deafness and/or by acquisition of sign

language;



o  Critical periods for the natural acquisition of signed languages,

and the effects of delayed exposure to spoken or signed language on the

development of linguistic competence and cognitive and academic

abilities.



STUDY POPULATIONS



INCLUSION OF WOMEN AND MINORITIES IN RESEARCH INVOLVING HUMAN SUBJECTS



It is the policy of the NIH that women and members of minority groups

and their subpopulations must be included in all NIH supported

biomedical and behavioral research projects involving human subjects,

unless a clear and compelling rationale and justification is provided

that inclusion is inappropriate with respect to the health of the

subjects or the purpose of the research.  This new policy results from

the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 (Section 492B of Public Law 103-43)

and supersedes and strengthens the previous policies (Concerning the

Inclusion of Women in Study Populations, and Concerning the Inclusion

of Minorities in Study Populations), which have been in effect since

1990.  The new policy contains some provisions that are substantially

different from the 1990 policies.



All investigators proposing research involving human subjects should

read the "NIH Guidelines For Inclusion of Women and Minorities as

Subjects in Clinical Research," which have been published in the

Federal Register of March 18, 1994 (FR 59 14508-14513) and reprinted in

the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, Volume 23, Number 11, March 18,

1994.



Investigators also may obtain copies of the policy from the program

staff listed under INQUIRIES.  Program staff may also provide

additional relevant information concerning the policy.



APPLICATION PROCEDURES



Applications are to be submitted on the grant application form PHS 398

(rev. 9/91) and will be accepted at the standard application deadlines

as indicated in the application kit.  These kits are available from

most institutional offices of sponsored research; the Office of Grants

Information, Division of Research Grants, National Institutes of

Health, Westwood Building, Room 449, Bethesda, MD 20892, telephone

(301) 435-0714; and the NIDCD Program Administrator listed under

INQUIRIES.  The title and number of the program announcement must be

typed in Section 2a on the face page of the application.



Applications for the FIRST Award (R29) must include at least three

sealed letters of reference attached to the face page of the original

application.  FIRST Award (R29) applications submitted without the

required number of reference letters will be considered incomplete and

will be returned without review.



The completed original application and five legible copies must be sent

or delivered to:



Division of Research Grants

National Institutes of Health

Westwood Building, Room 240

Bethesda, MD  20892**



REVIEW CONSIDERATIONS



Applications will be assigned on the basis of established PHS referral

guidelines.  Applications will be reviewed for scientific and technical

merit by an appropriate Initial Review Group within the Division of

Research Grants, NIH, in accordance with the standard NIH peer review

procedures.  Following scientific/technical review, the applications

will receive a second-level review by the appropriate national advisory

council.



AWARD CRITERIA



Applications will compete for available funds with all other approved

applications assigned to  that ICD.  The following will be considered

in making funding decisions:



o  Quality of the proposed project as determined by peer review.

o  Availability of funds.

o  Program priorities among research areas of the announcement.



INQUIRIES



Written and telephone inquiries concerning this PA are encouraged.  The

opportunity to clarify any issues or questions from potential

applicants is welcome.



Direct inquiries regarding programmatic issues to:



Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D.

Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Executive Plaza South, Room 400-C

6120 Executive Boulevard

Rockville, MD  20892

Telephone:  (301) 496-5061

FAX:  (301) 402-6251



Direct inquiries regarding fiscal matters to:



Sharon Hunt

Grants Management Office

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Executive Plaza South, Room 400-B

6120 Executive Boulevard

Rockville, MD  20892

Telephone:  (301) 402-0909



AUTHORITY AND REGULATIONS



This program is described in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

No. 93.173.  Awards are made under authorization of the Public Health

Service Act, Title IV, Part A (Public Law 78-410, as amended by Public

Law 99-158, 42 USC 241 and 285) and administered under PHS grants

policies and Federal Regulations 42 CFR 52 and 45 CFR Part 74.  This

program is not subject to the intergovernmental review requirements of

Executive Order 12372 or Health Systems Agency review.



.


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