The stories that children hear not only offer them a model for how to tell stories, but they also serve as a window into their cultural worlds. What would happen if a child were unable to hear what surrounds them? Would such children have any sense that events can be narrated and, if so, would they narrate those events in a culturally appropriate manner? To explore this question, we examined children who did not have access to conventional language – deaf children whose profound hearing deficits prevented them from acquiring the language spoken around them, and whose hearing parents had not yet exposed them to a conventional sign language. We observed 8 deaf children of hearing parents in two cultures, 4 European-American children from either Chicago or Philadelphia, and 4 Taiwanese children from Taipei, all of whom invented gesture systems to communicate. All 8 children used their gestures to recount stories, and those gestured stories were of the same types, and of the same structure, as those told by hearing children. Moreover, the deaf children seemed to produce culturally specific narrations despite their lack of a verbal language model, suggesting that these particular messages are so central to the culture as to be instantiated in nonverbal as well as verbal practices.

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