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Amber J. Martin

Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Institute of Child Development


Department of Psychology
Hunter College, Room 613N
695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065

Short Description of Research

What would happen if a child was deprived of language during the crucial language acquisition years? This question is known as the “forbidden experiment” because we cannot ethically conduct it. However, some children who are born deaf experience this if they are not exposed to a sign language and cannot hear the language spoken around them. My research focuses on signers of American Sign Language, and Nicaraguan Sign Language whose first language exposure came later in life than most children’s because they were born deaf. I study how this delay impacts both the process of acquiring a language and the child’s developing cognition.

Broadly, my work aims to uncover the multiple ways that language acquisition and cognition can influence each other. I study these relationships by using several distinct but complementary approaches. In one approach, I study how our cognition depends on language acquisition by comparing what happens in cognition when language is acquired normally to what happens when children are deprived of language in their early years. In another approach, I examine the spatial cognitive skills, like mental rotation, of signers who have acquired a highly visual-spatial language to those of non-signers who have not.

These studies can help us understand both typical development and development in deaf children who experience language delays.


Representative Publication List

  1. Martin, A., Senghas, A., Pyers, J. (2013). Age of acquisition effects on mental rotation: Evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language. In S. Baiz, N. Goldman., and R Hawkes (Eds.). BUCLD 37: Proceedings of the 37th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston University. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press (241-250).
  2. Martin, A.J., Sera M.D. (2006). Acquisition of spatial constructions by users of American Sign Language and English. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education,11, 391-402.
  3. Sera, M.D., Martin, A.J. (2005). Developmental relationships between language and cognition. Journal of Language and Linguistics, 3, 491-500.