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"Creating your own language without any exposure to a mature language model..." 

Is it possible for a child to develop a communication system without being exposed to any type of language? The answer is, yes. The language used by children, who could not acquire a spoken language due to hearing-loss or who have not been exposed to any sign language due to being raised by hearing parents with no prior experience on deafness, is called a “home sign” system. Although these children can communicate by other means with the people surrounding them efficiently enough to keep on with their daily lives, the fact is there is only one deaf individual using a home sign system as a basic communication mechanism. Therefore, we can think of these systems as a language for one. As deaf individuals grow up and maintain their lives among the hearing family and community members, they constantly use their signs with them. Previous studies show that these signs gradually become more conventionalized and persistent compared to co-speech gestures and mimics used by hearing individuals. Considering that home signers have a limited exposure to a developed language, there is a clear indication of an innate capacity of humans for producing a language system, even in the absence of a mature linguistic model. 

 

The first step for the emergence of a more developed language, such as Turkish Sign Language, is considered to be based on the individual systems of home signers who frequently come together in a school setting later on to create a sustained signing community.

Ayse was hearing when she was born, yet before she could acquire a spoken language, she suffered from a complete hearing-loss due to high fever caused by meningitis. As the first and only deaf member of a hearing family, she grew up without sufficient exposure to Turkish. Ayse went to primary school for a short period of time, yet she could not learn any TID as well. She had to quit her education due to limited resources that did not enable her to attend a school for the deaf in a big city. All of these, of course, did not stop her from communicating with others. She created a home sign system of her own. Today she is much more accustomed to communicating with her hearing family members, especially with her mother and older sister who eventually learned the signs that she created. Ayse still lives with her family, together with his husband who is also deaf. Upon visiting her house to conduct experiment during our annual field trip, Ayse could even share her personal life experiences with one of our researchers who helped her make Turkish coffee for the team.

Ahmet, who is currently 34 years old, has grown up at various camp sites surrounded by hearing community, isolated from the city life. Just like Ayse, he has never been to school; therefore, he had no exposure to another signing community. Now he earns his life by day labor, such as working as an agricultural worker, and lives in a camp site with other workers. Being the only deaf individual at the camp site, Ahmet has a hearing wife and a hearing baby boy.

The names of the participants in this exhibition are anonymous in order to protect their privacy.

Bogazici University, North Campus, ETA B 702