The reality of grammatical structure is well-illustrated by the following two sentences taken from the sentence test:
(1) Peter likes small cookies and red lollipops.
(2) Peter wants one, and so does Johnny.
These sentences have seven words each and all the words have a common occurrence in the discourse of children. Yet sentence (1) was found to be mush easier for our subject than sentence (2). Even though mistakes are often made in the repetition of sentence (1), the nature of the mistakes clearly shows that the child has understood the original sentence in its basic structure and semantic content. Following are two typical attempts at repeating this sentence:
“Peter like red cookies and red lollipops.”
“Peter like cookies and he like lollipops.”
When sentence (2) as attempted, three times as many parroting responses (for example, “Johnny”, “So does Johnny”) occurred than for sentence (1), and the mistakes showed a lack of insight into the grammatical structure and meaning of the sentence; examples are:
“Peter does no want one too and so but Jimmy.”
The best explanation for the difference in ease of repeating these two sentences may be found in an analysis of their grammatical structure.
“Peter does no want one too and so but Jimmy.”
Table 7.8 is a rough sketch (with a number of simplifications) of the grammatical structure of these sentences. It is obvious that they differ enormously in their degrees of complexity and this is clearly the cause of the children’s difficulty with the second one. Familiarity of frequency of occurrence can hardly be used as explanatory factors because the children can repeat sentences they have never heard before, and which are therefore totally unfamiliar, as long as the underlying structure is clear to them. This grammatical explanation appears to be further corroborated by the types of mistakes made on sentence (2) by those children who are in possession of the basic elements of grammar (but with some “higher-order rules” still missing). For instance, one child, after a moment’s reflection, repeated sentence (2) as “Johnny wants one and Peter wants one” which conforms verbatim to our analysis here.
When very young children (24 to about 30 months) are compared with the mongoloids in terms of their respective performance on the sentence repetition test, we are impressed with the similarity. Unfortunately, there is no reliable method available at present to quantify this impression, but the inaccuracies, mistakes, and occasional forays into parroting-strategies appear to be strikingly alike. Thus, the intellectual limitation does not produce bizarre language behavior; it merely results in arrest at primitive, but “normal,” stages of development.
(3) Language Acquisition in the Congenitally Deaf*
The last type of handicap to be considered in this chapter is congenital, profound deafness. The following observations apply only to peripheral nerve deafness in children who are otherwise well, particularly from a neuropsychiatric viewpoint.
Language development in these children is of great interest for a language theory, because it can be shown that despite this devastating handicap, it is entirely possible to develop good language skills (though, unfortunately, only a few achieve complete perfection). In order to appreciate fully the magnitude of this achievement, we must realize to what extent the deaf child is quantitatively and qualitatively deprives of language input.
In America it is not until the child is four or five that intensive language training is begun, and during the first year the training is merely preparatory, that is, readiness for the instruction in articulation, lip reading, and reading and writing. When instruction proper beings there is, in many schools, a decided unwillingness to put too much reliance on the graphic medium. Although words and sentences are written in the blackboard and the child himself also learns to write, the emphasis is usually on the production of sounds and lip reading. If communication between pupil and teacher fails, the child is often not allowed either to gesture or to make use of his newly acquired writing skills, and the teachers also hesitate to facilitate their communications by writing (expect for specific classroom instruction) in order to foster what is know as an “oralist attitude” among their charges. Many schools also instruct the parents not to take recourse to writing for communication in the home, for the same reason, and we have had many a teacher of the deaf tell us that it is not desirable for deaf children to make reading for fun a hobby while they are still in school.
*Following comments are based on several years of observation in schools for the deaf throughout the country. I would like to thank the principals and teachers for their cooperation, assistance, and hospitality, and to express my admiration for their devoted and patient efforts to help these children, so underprivileged by nature. If the following remarks are critical (as they are meant to be), they are not intended to belittle the thought, experience, and good will that is the background of present-day education of the deaf. My remarks, despite their sketchiness, are offered here as a possible contribution—not a deprecation.