Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science




Dr. Marc Joanisse

Second Advisor

Dr. Ken McRae


We performed a detailed investigation of the robust correlation between ASL and English reading ability in 54 deaf students aged 7;3 to 19;0. Skilled and unskilled signers were assessed on four English sentence structures (actives, passives, pronouns, reflexive pronouns) using a four-alternative forced choice sentence-to-picture-matching task, providing a window into how ASL skill is related to English sentence comprehension. Of interest was the extent to which proficiency in LI provided a foundation for L2 learning as predicted by Cummins’ developmental interdependence hypothesis. Skilled signers outperformed unskilled signers on all sentence types. Error analysis indicated greater word recognition difficulties in unskilled signers. Syntactic structures mapping directly from LI to L2 were more accurately understood than structures mapping in less obvious ways, consistent with MacWhinney’s unified competition model. Our findings provide evidence that increased ASL ability supports English sentence comprehension at the levels of individual words and syntax.



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