Toddler using indicating verbs in sign language

The uses of basic ASL indicating verbs, basic classifier predicates, and referential spaces quickly emerged in Juli's language acquisition.

This parallels to the same developmental milestone in spoken language in which a toddler begins to inflect a verb. Below are some examples.

Lately I noticed that the toddler Juli (age 2;1,3) began to inflect an ASL plain verb into an indicating verb. For example, she produced (father) eat and then produced the inflected verb eat-loc toward the father's picture above the fireplace. She used this spatial reference for an absent referent to indicate "him".

However, the ASL verb to-eat can't be inflected in ASL grammar. But, it's not unusual to find such in toddlers. It appears that toddlers may experiment with the idea of inflecting verbs and learn what works and what not grammatically.

Researchers have reported that children, as young as 2 years old, use uninflected forms of the verb, and spatial inflection appears to be completely mature by the age six. (Emmorey, 2002).

Juli talked about the gift that her Grandma Z gave her. She pointed at something in the cabinet and uttered ix-loc grandmother gift-me. At first she indicated the space with gift (toward away from her), but quickly she corrected it and indicated toward herself ("give me a gift").

During that time, another form of early inflection was that Juli first "inflected" pointing. That is, she twisted or oriented her wrist and/or bent her finger to specific the "bent" direction. Now she was able to point "under" the window which covered another window on the computer screen.

Toddler inflecting ASL verbs

Several months later (2;7,2), toddler Juli has been inflecting the ASL verb gift for the past several weeks, such as gift-me and gift-you.

Lately, she had inflected some more ASL verbs in addition to give, such as: bring-to[ref], sprinkle-on-me (wanting me to sprinkle hose water on her), etc.

Phonological development

Juli continued to struggle with forming the letter/handshape "F". Whenever she willed to form the letter "F", she ended up forming the handshape "W". She eventually uttered water with the perfect production ("W" handshape).

Syntactic development

Another time, Juli watched the video clips on my camera. As she came across the video where she and I visited a pet store, Juli begged want rabbit store, want+want+want.

I explained that we already went there that morning and couldn't go again. She again asked please! and she uttered with a classifier predicate ix-me cl-stand there-ref, in which she used the "2" handshape (a classifier for a standing person) and indicated at the camera screen. It seemed that she tried to find another way to tell me that she wanted to be there. She wanted to go there.

Juli came across a photograph of herself which was taken shortly after she was delivered into the world. I told her that I gave birth to her. She pulled up my shirt. She pointed to my stomach and signed born (inflected from my stomach) a few times. Then she specifically pointed to my belly button. It was a very special moment and her signing was beautiful. No video captured, unfortunately.

Juli wanted me to play inside the tent again like I did the other day. She uttered more ix(tent) hide. I understood her request.

One day, Juli had a tantrum that she wanted the honey container. After she calmed down, she articulated ix-its, bee make, where she directed the possessive "its" toward the dead bee in the fireplace.

I asked Juli, "Did you watch Baraka today with Dad?" (translated from ASL). She replied yes.

Language development

Juli dressed up and pulled down the door handle. She said "cat" and then put on shoes, coat, etc. all by herself with help. Then again she tried to open the door and signed "Ash, Ash, Ash". I realized that she wanted to visit Ash and her cat! I told her it was too close to her bedtime already.

Juli wanted to watch the documentary "Baraka". By herself, she partially fingerspelled #BAR without help. It was her first incompletely fingerspelled word. She also attempted to fingerspell "Anna".

One day Juli came to my office and informed me sticky, sticky. Her hands were sticky from eating some mango. I asked her if she wanted to wash her hands. She shook her head.

Juli wasn't familiar with the ASL words share -- at least, I didn't use it much with her. Instead, I use the magical word mine, where her stage was more of "Your, Mine, His" than the common stage "Mine, Mine, Mine".

Juli checked which object was mine (mother's), hers (Juli's), or his/hers (third party). I found it really easy when I told her, "It's theirs" or "It's his/hers." and Juli would back off.

One night Juli was put on a big test. She found a photograph that she became so possessed. She took it to her bedtime and refused to let it go. After all tries, I turned to the last resort. I told her, "It's mine." She let it go. I found this to be magical so from now on, I decided to use it sparsely.

The following referential words and phrases that Juli used this week: drive-to swimming (making repeated requests), store again (Juli wanted to go out again that day), grandmother come-here, outside drive store..music store (an unusual request), turtle hide, food/eat bite, apple juice, (one of her favorite uses), father come-here, some more shown in the video above, and other ASL words mentioned in the past months.

References

Emmorey. http://intl-jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/4/391.full

This documentation project follows a baby's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, week by week from gazing at birth to manual babbling, to first words just before the first birthday in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.

The second-year and third-year documentation continues to follow the same child's language and phonological acquisition and literacy development in ASL on a weekly basis from the one-word stage to two-word and multiple utterances.

The documentary continues to follow the same child's ASL language and literacy development on a regular basis from age three to four. It surveys ASL phonological acquisition and more complex utterances.

These posts on ASL-English bilingualism, language acquisition, and bilingual education may be of an interest for parents who raise a bilingual-bimodal child in ASL (or another signed language) and English (or another written and/or spoken language of its respective) as well as informative and educational for ASL specialists, educators, and professionals.