Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael G. Johnson

Committee Members

Stephen Handel, Charles Hargis


In order to assess the characteristics of the manual communications of linguistically adult deaf individuals, six pairs of deaf adolescents and 24 pairs of normal hearing adolescents described photographic referents in a referential communication setting. The referents were photographs of people's faces, selected in a preliminary recognizability study to insure a range of difficulty from easily recognizable to almost chance recognition.

Although the design was essentially exploratory and descriptive, there are several noteworthy results: (1) There was no difference between the two subject groups in the accuracy with which they communicated. Both groups scored extremely high. (2) The deaf group had a significantly faster rate of cue presentation. In other words, the deaf subjects managed to include more cues per unit of time than the normal hearing subjects. (3) The uncertainty ratio measures of the deaf subjects were significantly higher than those of the normal hearing subjects, That is, there was less intra-group, inter-subject cue commonality for the deaf subjects. (4) Analysis of the content of the descriptions showed that the deaf and normal hearing subjects included the same features in much the same order in their descriptions. (5) A comparison of the within-group correlations showed a striking difference between groups as far as the overall pattern of these correlations, suggesting a different underlying approach to the task.

It appears, then, that for real-life-like stimuli such as those used in this study, the manual communications of linguistically adult deaf subjects are as efficient and successful as the verbal communications of the normal hearing subjects. While it was found that the two groups "talk about" much the same things, there is less intragroup commonality for the deaf subjects.

Some interesting findings concerning the amount of fingerspelling used and the conserving of motions while signing are presented along with examples showing the difficulty of translating a signed utterance to written English.

It is suggested that a referential communication setting might not be a valid tool for studying the limits of a language without making the setting artificial, and some follow-up studies are outlined.

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