Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Letitia Naigles; Diane Lillo-Martin

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Studying the communication systems that arise in spontaneously occurring cases of degraded linguistic input can help clarify human predispositions for language. Some deaf individuals born into hearing families, who do not receive conventional linguistic input, develop gestures, called “homesign,” to communicate. We examined homesign systems used by four deaf Nicaraguan adults (ages 15-27), and evaluated whether homesigners’ hearing mothers are potential sources for these systems. Study One measured mothers’ comprehension of descriptions of events (e.g., “A man taps a woman”) produced in homesign and spoken Spanish. Mothers comprehended spoken Spanish descriptions (produced by one of their hearing children) better than they comprehended homesign descriptions, suggesting that each mother shares spoken Spanish with her hearing child to a greater degree than she shares homesign with her deaf child. Study Two randomly matched each mother with a Deaf native user of American Sign Language (ASL) and compared their comprehension of the same homesign descriptions. ASL Signers performed better than mothers, confirming that homesign productions contain comprehensible information, to which mothers are not fully sensitive. Taken together, these results suggest that mothers are not the source of their deaf child’s homesign system.

Major Advisor

Marie Coppola