Rethinking Recapitulation: Sources of Structure in Nicaraguan Sign Language
The emergence of a new sign language in Nicaragua provides a real-world opportunity to discover the relationship between individual language development and language creation. Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) is a young, urban sign language that emerged from within a community of deaf children initially brought together in an educational setting in the 1970s. Members of different age cohorts today represent a living “fossil record” of the language as it developed over the following four decades. In this talk, I will trace the development of basic sentence structure and vocabulary in NSL, in order to uncover the effect of language acquisition processes on language emergence and convergence across age cohorts. Evolutionary principles must apply not only to the development of humans as language learners, but also to the development of languages as systems that change and adapt over generations.