Ursidae: The Undergraduate Research Journal at the University of Northern Colorado

Faculty Sponsor

John M. Ryan


This project involves examining the linguistic properties of Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN) which developed rapidly after the creation of a deaf community in Nicaragua in the late 1970’s. Throughout the 1980s, as the language was passed from one cohort of signers to the next, the language became increasingly complex. ISN is one of the very few languages that linguists have had the chance to study as it was created and evolved. Therefore ISN provides a unique opportunity to study the origin of language, language evolution, and universal grammar. The theory of Universal Grammar claims that there are core principles that are universal to all languages (Chomsky, 1965). Humans are able to use their language faculty, their ability to create grammar, because of the existence of universal grammar. Due to the lack of empirical evidence on a primordial language, scholars must make assumptions about the origin of language using languages available today. By examining linguistic properties such as syntax, morphology, and phonology of ISN, we can learn what principles are universal to all languages and how language becomes more complex as rules are added on top of these principles. The goal of this study is to develop an instrument that can be used to interview a specialist of ISN within Nicaragua. Future work would include conducting this interview and drawing additional conclusions from the findings.