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Issues in Applied Linguistics

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Attention-Getting Strategies of Deaf Children at the Dinner Table


This study investigates one facet of the language socialization process of Deaf children with Deaf parents, specifically, how they learn to get attention as a speaker in order to participate in an American Sign Language (ASL) conversation. The database consists of a videotape of an hour-long dinner attended by three Deaf children (aged 3-6 years), their two Deaf mothers, and a Deaf researcher. Small segments of the interaction, transcribed from the videotape, show not only successful and unsuccessful attention-getting strategies used by one Deaf child in the group but also adult and peer responses to her novice-like efforts. This child's attempts at getting attention demonstrate that while she could perform many culturally appropriate attention-getting behaviors (e.g., tapping, hand-waving, eye-gaze), she was still in the process of developing awareness of the relative impact of the various strategies and the ability to judge pragmatic conditions appropriate to their use. The mothers' and peers' cooperation helped to facilitate the child's participation, by modelling specifically Deaf discourse strategies for communication in a multi-party setting. This study shows that such modelling enables Deaf children in a Deaf context to become autonomous partners in interaction with their parents and peers at an early age.

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