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Visual Sign Phonology & Reading Public Lecture in Hong Kong

July 16, 2015

On July 11, 2015, Professor Laura-Ann Petitto (above, center) and her two doctoral students, Adam Stone and Geo Kartheiser (left and right, respectively), delivered a public lecture at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), titled “Science of Learning Discoveries about the Role of Visual Sign Phonology and Reading: Revolutionary Implications for Young Visual Learners.” Specifically, they sought to answer the question: Decades of research have identified that the capacity to segment the speech stream, called “phonological awareness,” is crucial for acquiring successful reading skills in the very young emergent hearing reader. What happens in the case of deaf children without access to sound?

Professor Petitto, in her capacity as the Sin Wai-Kin Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong, covered decades of research on how the brains of profoundly deaf people extract visual sign phonetic-syllabic units from the visual linguistic stream around them, produce these units in infancy, and create a homologous “phonological” level of language organization in the absence of sound (c.f., Petitto & Marentette 1991; Petitto et al., 2001, 2004; Petitto 2009; Jasinska & Petitto, 2013, 2014) en route to becoming successful readers.

Stone and Kartheiser, as Ph.D. students in Educational Neuroscience and recipients of a USA National Science of Foundation supplemental award (written by Petitto) from the Science of Learning Centers Program (Dr. Soo-Siang Lim, NSF Program Director and Chair of Coordinating Committee) and the Office of International Science and Engineering (Dr. Akaysha C. Tang, East Asia & Pacific Program Director), then shared research coming from the NSF Science of Learning Center, Visual Language & Visual Learning (VL2), on how early sign language-exposed children build upon their visual sign phonology to create connections among orthographic, semantic, and phonological representations, critical for the development of skilled reading, in precisely the same manner as hearing children with sound phonology.

Professor Petitto (center) responds to an audience member's question while Adam Stone (first from left), Geo Kartheiser (second from right), and Professor Nancy Law (right) look on.

Adam Stone (left) and Geo Kartheiser (right) discuss research showing Chinese phonological awareness to be an important factor in the early acquisition of Chinese reading.

Adam Stone, Professor/Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto and Geo Kartheiser are seated on the Rayson Huang Theatre stage prior to delivering their public lecture.

Geo Kartheiser, Professor/Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, and Adam Stone smile after delivering their public lecture.

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