Locative relationships in ASL: The development of polycomponential predicates in deaf children Brenda Schick, Ann Marie Baer & Kim Brown Kurz University of Colorado Nancy Bridenbaugh University of Hawaii Debbie Golos University of Colorado Classifiers are complex morphological structures, perhaps more appropriately called polycomponetial verbs, that occur in most if not all sign languages. Although they are an essential component of adult language, we have an incomplete understanding about how children acquire these morphologically complex forms. Previous research indicates that these forms may have an extended developmental time period, most likely due to the complex array of meanings and forms that constitute the classifier system, as well as the subtle rules for combining components. Therefore, they are an excellent candidate when looking for developmental benchmarks in sign language, particularly during the schoolage years when educational programs need to document language skills. Their development occurs over an extended time period, children must learn to coordinate layered, morphologically rich predicate structures, both within a single structure as well as across multiple classifiers. Because of this, they provide a unique window onto acquisition of signed languages. Most research on classifier acquisition in ASL has focused on the selection of handshapes and the ability to represent different objects using different hands, with some attention on how children coordinate information on two hands. But we do not know much about how well children coordinate classifier descriptions involving spatial relationships between a figure and ground that require multiple predicates. This investigation examines the patterns of lexical-syntactic proprieties in ASL polycomponential signs (classifiers), focusing on descriptions of locative relationships that require more than a single predicate. This study includes 91 deaf children, from age 3; 11 to 7;11 years of age, who were learning ASL as a first language and who attended bilingual schools. Approximately half of the children had deaf parents and half had hearing parents. Samples of classifier production were elicited from a picture task that required children to describe locative relationships between two objects (figure and ground). This means that most of the data required what is often termed entity classifiers, in some type of locative relationship to each other. Using the same stimuli, data were elicited from five native-signing deaf adults for comparison purposes. The data were analyzed for the following components: handshape selection from a semantic perspective, the locative relationship between ground and figure, and the ordering of predicates within the description. In addition, the child’s ability to use prosody, similar to what is often termed Topic Comment, to focus and introduce the figure and ground was examined. Basically, the entire locative description was analyzed in terms of introducing the figure and ground, as well as how the child combined the specific predicates. Because of this, the resulting data shows the children’s skills in terms of morphology, syntax, and prosody. Data were coded by individuals fluent in ASL, using a coding system developed for the purposes of this study, intended to capture patterns of production in terms of errors and correct structures. The data show that there are developmental trends in classifier production evident across age span. Results show that, as expected, deaf children with deaf parents have more advanced skills in classifier production compared with their peers from hearing families. However, many deaf children from hearing families demonstrated skills that were developmentally appropriate, with some children comparable to native-signing children. Within each group, there was a range of abilities. First, children were generally skilled at selecting an appropriate handshape at an early age. However, there was more difficulty in producing predicates that correctly combined these handshapes into a single structure, and representing clearly the locative relationship between the figure and ground. In addition, children with more advanced skills were able to introduce the figure and ground, often using prosodic focusing, followed by a predicate that showed a locative relationships. Younger children often did not produce grammatical focus. Younger children also showed more difficulty in efficiently focusing on the locative relationship, often producing elements that were not essential to the description. Older children often produced a clear and concise series of polycompontial verbs. Finally, older children were able to produce the locative description using adult-like ordering of elements. In contrast, younger children showed difficulty in correctly ordering the entire classifier predicate. In summary, deaf children are able to produce many elements of a polycomponential predicate at a young age, but coordinating the numerous elements is more difficult. This entails coordinating elements sequentially as well as combining numerous morphemes in a single predicate. As children gain more skills, they are also able to use prosodic focus, similar to Topic Comment, in order to specify the figure and ground prior to describing the relationship between them.