Present-day language instruction of deaf children is of theoretical interest for yet another reason. In contrast to the hearing child, who is simply surrounded by a sea of sentences, well-formed and poorly formed and who builds up his sentence-making skill without knowing how, the deaf child is usually immediately introduced to theoretical grammar. In the course of his first year of language instruction, he is told that he must speak in sentences and that a proper sentence is made up of nouns and verbs, that nouns must have article, and so on. These theoretical terms are written on the blackboard and also appear in some of the books that are used in the lower grades. Thus we have a situation in which the children are on the one hand quantitatively deprived of a large body of examples. And on the other hand are immediately given a meta-language, a language about the language which they do not yet have. Their own spontaneity of putting out the type of primitive sentences which, as we have seen, are apparently the necessary developmental stage that must precede the complete unfolding of grammar in hearing children, is restricted by teachers who do not tolerate answers in “incomplete sentence.” The child’s flow of communication is constantly stopped by the teacher’s instructions “to complete the sentence,” which is accompanied by a theoretical discussion of how to do this (“verb is missing,” “the article is not correct,” etc.).
This mode of instruction raises an important question. Is it possible to instruct somebody how language works by giving him rules－particularly when he has little language as yet? The invariable emergence of written intelligible language (oral speech of at least half of the profoundly and congenitally deaf remains difficult to understand throughout their lives) is a testimony to man’s enormous capacity to develop language competence even under conditions of severe deprivation.
Following are a few illustrations of language development under these circumstances: (each composition is the complete, written description of picture).
Language sample of a child after one year of instruction:
A boy is stoling candy. He is on the chair. He is a light. He is a short.
He ate candy. His mother naught. He is crying.
Sample of a child’s language after two years of instruction:
The boy went to the school. We buy a Card Valentine her mother. The dog a dirty feet the rain because he was shoe dirty because she was saw the boy came home.
Sample of a child’s language after three years of instruction:
Edd and Browine got mud on his house. He make a flower for his mother. He forget to closte the door. Outside is rain. He was dope because he was little boy know noting about it. His mother will angry with him because he was careless boy. His mother didn’t want to clean the house because she will tried of it. He will help dog get a bath because he take dog for awalk.
Sample of child’s language after five years of instruction:
One day he lived in
From these examples it is clear that the construction of proper sentence is not facilitated by telling a child how to do it. It must be admitted that no one knows how it is done. The new approach to grammatical theory, generative grammar, is no more useful in this respect than the grammars that were handed down to us from antiquity. In fact, the new grammars are, substantively, not so different from the old ones, except for greater accuracies, special attention to peculiarities in given grammars of natural languages, more rigorous formulations, and, in certain other ways, they constitute a more objective approach, as many be gathered from the Appendix and its bibliography. No grammar, old or new, furnishes us with a recipe how to speak grammatically. There is no grammatical system available that could be used to help an essentially language-deficient person to put words together to from good sentences. So far, grammars merely specify the underlying structure of sentences and explain how sentences of different structure are related to each other.