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Deaf Children of Hearing Mothers: Co-embodied Perspectives on Identity and Learning in a Preschool Classroom


This is a study about the deaf child of hearing parents in a hearing world and the hearing mother in the world of her deaf child. It is about how they, mother and child, along with classmates and teachers, come to understand the hearingness and deafness and the space in-between. This research is not just about how we understand the embodied communicative practices of deaf children in relation to identity processes, but also of the hearing co-participants. It is a study of why the body matters in how we, hearing and deaf, come to shape a sense of self and the semiotic resources we use in the process. Nonverbal elements of language production (body language), sign language, and co-gestural speech remain on the periphery of most critical discourse analyses, research in language learning and research in identity studies. However, more recently, FL and SLA researchers have paid greater attention to the subjective, affective, emotional aspects of language learning (Pavlenko 2005, 2006; Kramsch 2009; Dewaele, 2010), in short, to the embodied and mediated dimensions of intercultural communication.

This dissertation project is an ethnographic, critical discourse analytic study exploring multimodal interactions in daily focal events among four and five-year-old deaf and hard of hearing children and their parents, teachers and hearing peers in a California preschool. Drawing on videotaped interactions, field notes and interviews, I explore the role of multimodality in communicative practices of deaf and hearing participants. On a broad level, this study considers the relationship between language learning and identity, and, in the process, interrogates the cultural constructs of “hearingness” and “deafness” that permeates this relationship. On a more micro level, this study attempt to understand the use of semiotic resources, or modal choices, in discourse. I examine the relationship of modality (the use of sign, speech, gesture, bodily stance and senses), co-produced, simultaneously produced (mode-blend) and subsequently produced (mode-switch) to the identity processes and language learning processes of deaf and hearing participants.

Working from the premise of language as embodied, the overarching question that guides this research, theoretically and empirically, is what insight on human communication do we gain from a modal analysis? More specifically I ask what role does multimodality play in communicative practices of deaf and hearing preschool participants in the focal events of circle time and snack time in the classroom setting? What does examining co-embodied dimensions tell us about how deaf and hearing preschoolers and hearing mothers position themselves in interaction? My data suggests that co- and multi-partied embodied utterances, in particular mode-switches and mode-blends, opened up narrative and learning/teaching spaces of hearing children, deaf children, hearing mothers and teachers. Modality plays a pivotal role in opening up new spaces for meaning making for Deaf and hearing alike---which is perhaps useful in examining ways that expands an understanding of the body’s role in human communication.

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