University of Southern Maine Linguistics Professor Judy Shepard-Kegl's work with deaf children in Nicaragua was highlighted in a Portland Press Herald feature story titled, “Seeing the signs: Renowned USM professor reflects on life-changing language discovery.”
The detailed feature story by reporter Kelley Bouchard described Shepard-Kegl’s 32-year-old revelation that deaf children at a Managua school who had never been taught a sign language had invented their own.
“What Shepard-Kegl saw on that playground in 1986 was a combination of rudimentary sign systems and gestures that each deaf child had developed to communicate with family members and friends at home,” Bouchard wrote. “She quickly recognized that she was watching the spontaneous development of a whole new language – something that had never been documented before. The excitement she felt back then hasn’t faded.”
“The 16-year-olds were signing fluently, and the younger kids were even more fluent,” Shepard-Kegl told the newspaper. “These kids were creating language. I realized at that moment I needed to document what was happening as it happened.”
In April, Shepard-Kegl and Conor McDonough Quinn, another USM linguistics professor, will travel to an international conference in Budapest, Hungary, to present their comparative analysis of American Sign Language and Algonquian languages native to the northeastern United States and Canada. They delivered a similar presentation last October at the 49th Algonquian Conference in Montreal.
Last month, Shepard-Kegl presented an overview of her research at a Princeton University seminar on the emergence of human language. She was invited by fellow linguist Christiane Fellbaum, a senior research scholar and lecturer at the university who has followed Shepard-Kegl’s work for decades.
The February/March edition of The Economist also featured Shepard-Kegl’s work in a story titled, “Signs and Wonders.”