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Deaf kids establish own sign language

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12:15pm, July 25, 2001

Children learn their native language with remarkable ease. This feat has inspired a long-running scientific debate about whether youngsters innately grasp underlying linguistic rules, or grammar, without having to learn them.

In a finding sure to fuel this argument, two psychologists report that successive groups of deaf kids attending a pair of Nicaraguan schools invented their own full-fledged sign language in less than 2 decades.

"Sequential [groups] of interacting children aged 10 and younger collectively possess the capacity not only to learn, but also to create language," the researchers conclude in the July Psychological Science.

Ann Senghas of Barnard College in New York City and Marie Coppola of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) studied videotaped communications of 24 deaf individuals, ages 7 to 32, who had used what is now formally called Nicaraguan Sign Language for at least 4 years.

Participants now attend, or used to attend, either of

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