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Imitation and language development in deaf and hearing schoolchildren
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Disability Research. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1896-8250
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Psychology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Disability Research. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2015 (English)Conference paper, Poster (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Introduction: Deaf signing children and hearing children reveal different developmental trajectories in several aspects of neurocognitive functioning; however, comparative studies of imitation across these groups are lacking. Imitation has been suggested to play a part in language and cognitive development, and the ability to imitate indicates multi-modal integration and analysis (e.g., Meltzoff & Williamson, 2013). Thus, understanding the function of imitation in typical and atypical groups is of theoretical interest, but may also have practical implications. Because sign language is gesture based, it is likely that deaf signing children can tap into existing linguistic representations during gesture imitation whereas only motor representations are available for nonsigning individuals. Thus, gesture imitation is likely to be supported by different cognitive skills in the signing and non-signing individuals. Importantly, imitation may expose qualities of generic mechanisms in the representational system. Method: Thirteen school-aged deaf users of Swedish Sign Language and 36 hearing nonsigning children, at similar levels of non-verbal cognitive ability and word reading skills, performed an experimental imitation task. The task involved spontaneous imitation of a set of manual gestures. Participants performed the task at two occasions, separated by 35 weeks. Tests of nonverbal intelligence, visual working memory, phonological awareness, word reading and reading comprehension were also administered. We investigated the precision of the imitative acts across groups and time, as well as relationships between imitative precision and cognitive and language skills in both groups. Results: A split-plot repeated measures ANOVA demonstrated that deaf signers imitate manual gestures with greater precision than hearing non-signing children. Further, improvement in imitative precision over time was greater for deaf than for hearing participants. Correlational patterns indicated that imitative precision was positively associated with language skills in both groups. Specifically, for deaf children, word reading skills at both assessment points and performance on a sign similarity judgment task at the second assessment were correlated positively with imitative precision. For the hearing participants, positive connections to word reading skills and performance on a rhyme task were observed at the second assessment point. In both groups, a significant connection between imitative precision and reading comprehension was observed at the second assessment point. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that sign language experience enhances the ability to imitate manual gestures longitudinally. They also show that imitation ability is linked to language skills in the non-manual, speech-related domain. We propose that the precision of imitative acts reflects the quality of linguistic and motor representations and the ability to employ them in language processing.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-122936OAI: diva2:875008
The seventh annual meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language October 15-17 2015 Chicago
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2008-0846
Available from: 2015-11-30 Created: 2015-11-30 Last updated: 2015-12-07

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Holmer, EmilHeimann, MikaelRudner, Mary
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