Developing Sign-Symbol Aptitude To Support Word Reading Acquisition

McQuarrie, L. 1 & Enns, C. 2

1 University of Alberta
2 University of Manitoba

For all children, the task in reading is "being able to take the graphic information on the page and convert it to linguistic forms with speed and accuracy". Spoken language users develop a sound-symbol aptitude (i.e., Alphabetic Principle) that helps them link orthographic representations with established mental spoken language phonological representations. We propose that a parallel learning mechanism can be developed with signed language users that builds on their established mental signed language phonological representations to facilitate speed and accuracy in accessing and retrieving linguistic forms. Making signed language phonological patterns explicit reduces ambiguity in the input, supports organization of the mental lexicon, and with instruction, enhances connections with symbols in print. We refer to this as building a sign-symbol aptitude.

Reading skills are cultivated through instruction, but seldom are signed language users taught to build on their strengths and exploit their metalinguistic insights of signed language. In this paper, we discuss our intervention data highlighting how targeted instruction teaching children to make connections between signed phonology and print facilitates vocabulary and word reading. We argue that this approach targets analogous fundamental knowledge structures and learning mechanisms known to support typical vocabulary learning and reading development in spoken language users.