Sign Language Development

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Osborne, L. (1999, October 24). A linguistic big bang. New York Times.

This newspaper article presents an account of the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language, explaining why this is so important to linguists and others interested in cognitive development. The article includes a review of the research by linguist Judy Kegl and Ann Senghas. Dr. Kegl has developed a theory on how home signs are enhanced into pidgin languages, which in turn are enhanced to become languages. Kegl and Senghas have observed the children using increasingly more complex grammatical constructions. For instance, they have seen verbs add inflection and agreement and other parts of speech, like prepositions, taking different forms than they do in spoken languages. For the people studying the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language, the most amazing feature may be that this is a language developed entirely by children.

Senghas, A. (1994). The development of Nicaraguan Sign Language via the language acquisition process. In D. MacLaughlin & S. McEwen (Eds.), Proceedings of the Boston University Conference on Language Development, 19 (pp. 543-552).

This is a study of language development among deaf children in Nicaragua as the Nicaraguan Sign Language developed. It discusses how the grammatical structure of these deaf signers grew in complexity. Key variables influencing the development of more complex language structures were the age of acquisition of Nicaraguan Sign Language and the year in which the child was first exposed to sign language. The latter is important because Nicaraguan Sign Language is a new language, and those exposed to it more recently have been exposed to a more rich and complex language. The language structures studied include the development of verb inflection and agreement. Deaf children who began signing at younger ages and those who began signing when the Nicaraguan Sign Language was more well established showed greater ability to use verb inflection and agreement.