What is Visual Sign Phonology?

Research in the Science of Learning, Cognitive Neuroscience, and its sister discipline, Educational Neuroscience, has yielded new discoveries about the role of Visual Sign Phonology and its revolutionary implications for reading success in all young visual learners—especially the young deaf visual learner. Earlier research had demonstrated that young children’s capacity to segment and categorize the linguistic speech stream into auditory sound phonetic-syllabic units phonetic-syllabic units, and to map these phonetic-syllabic units to letters on the page (called “phonological awareness”) is crucial for acquiring successful reading skills in young emergent hearing readers. What happens in the case of deaf children without access to sound? Decades of research pioneered by Petitto have shown that the brains of profoundly deaf children (and adults) extract visual sign phonetic-syllabic units from the visual linguistic stream around them just like hearing children. Like hearing infants, these visual sign phonetic-syllabic units are perceived, segmented, and categorized in infancy—but only with early exposure to a natural signed language. With early exposure to signed language, the brains of deaf children create a homologous (identical) “phonological” level of language organization in the absence of sound en route to becoming successful readers. 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.

The discovery of Visual Sign Phonology demonstrates that deaf children can be truly outstanding readers (garnering all of the academic successes afforded to “good readers”) through Bilingual Reading Approaches. Here the child’s early sign-phonological knowledge becomes the powerful foundation—and the bridge—on which the child can achieve outstanding mastery of English as well as ASL. Petitto and team show how young deaf children’s knowledge of ASL actually catapults forward their mastery and success in English, affording these children all of the lifelong “Bilingual Processing Advantages” along the way. Evidence is also provided to show that early sign-exposed deaf children can be better readers than age-matched hearing monolingual children. (See Petitto primary science articles in Petitto Publications at this site.) This work on the role of Visual Sign Phonology has further positive implications for the learning of reading in all children, inclusive the young hearing visual learner. Beyond the important translational impact of this work, Petitto and team articulate the science behind why the phonological level of language organization exists in all human brains (be they individuals exposed to spoken languages or individuals exposed to signed languages). Petitto and team further articulate the biological foundations of phonology (signed or spoken)—that is, from whence phonology comes to be in humans—and why early exposure to the phonological patterns of natural language need to occur most optimally within key developmental critical periods when human infants are maximal sensitivity to these patterns. 

• For greater information from Petitto’s primary research discoveries see Petitto Publications downloadable within.

• To see the FULL article on VSP in the international journal WIREs:  Click here to download full article

• To see the ABSTRACT for the international journal WIREs article on VSP that is presented bilingually in English and in ASL click here: 

• Petitto and team have presented this work on VSP internationally. As one example, Dr. Petitto and students Adam Stone and Geo Kartheiser presented this work at the University of Hong Kong. To read more about this particular presentation click here.

What is Visual Sign Phonology?

© petitto.net