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Hypotheses about the acquisition of the written language

Over the last years, the potential impact of sign language on the acquisition of the written language in bilingual deaf learners has been debated at length. Statistical studies measuring correlations of sign language and written language skills of bilingual deaf learners, as we learned previously (section, do not provide a qualitative account of how deaf learners develop the oral language. The ongoing debate about the use of the Interdependence hypothesis also makes apparent that there is no consensus on the status of the written language. Advocates of bilingual approaches to deaf education commonly assume that the written language is acquired as a second language. However, there is little agreement on the impact of the lack of access to the spoken language on the development of the written language (Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry 2001; Gunther 2003; Leuninger 2000; Leuninger, Vorkoper & Happ 2003; Schafke 2005; Vercaingne-Menard et al. 2005; Vorkoper 2005).[1] At the theoretical level it becomes apparent that there is no consensus about the status of reading and writing and whether what is defined as written language can be conceived of independently from speech. The controversy needs to be understood against the backdrop of a debate that has a long tradition. The main issues are summarised in the following section.

  • [1] Cf. Berent (1996) for a discussion of the status of the written language as “L1.5” in non-signingdeaf children which aims at capturing the circumstance that the incomplete development of thespoken or written language at home (L1) is taken up in the formal school setting as an L2.
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