ASL phonology in handshape acquisition

Below describes the bilingual toddler Juli's phonological development in sign language for the handshapes R, U, V, and W.

The emerging handshapes U, V, and W

During the week (age 2;1,1), the handshapes "V" and "U" recently emerged in some ASL words, such as cinnamon (ASL neologism by myself), .

Juli had no problem with these handshapes when producing these ASL words, at least subconsciously. But, she struggled with manipulating these handshapes U and V as standalone, consciously.

Later in the coming months, I eventually realized that physical motor skill appeared to develop separately from linguistic motor skill that they process differently in the brain.

Juli had some difficulty with forming the handshape "F", but somehow easily managed the form the handshape "W". When intentionally attempting to form the "F", her hand ended up forming the "W".

To take this opportunity, I introduce her to phonologically produce the water, using this "W" handshape. And she did it successfully, only if I reminded her.

Forming the handshape R for U and V

Juli (age 2;1,1) first formed the handshape "R" for bent "V" when producing her signed name Juli. Previous handshape was approximately the whole hand together.

A month later (age 2;2,1), following this signed name (which requires the bent "V" handshape), the handshape "R" in substitute for the handshapes "U" and "V" began to emerge more commonly in some ASL words such as train ("U" handshape), sit ("U"), racoon ("V"), video ("V"), etc.

Hypothetically, the reason for the handshape R in substitute of U and V is that it helped Juli to hold the first two fingers together while closing the last two fingers with more efficient control. Once she mastered it, she probably would be able to form the handshape U and V easier. This was the part of her phonological process.

Interestingly, Juli used the correct handshape "U" or slightly "V" when producing stand and cinnamon. Sometimes subtly "R". It was a transition process.

Juli also used the handshape "W" for "F" as found in cat. When forming "W", she correctly formed the handshape "W" as in water. But, when attempting to form the handshape "F", she ended up forming "W".

Each child's development and phonological process may be different.

From "R" substitute to "U" handshape in ASL phonology

A few weeks later (at age 2;2,4), the toddler Juli now successfully formed the handshape "U" in ASL words such as sit and train.

Previously, she strategically used the handshape "R" to help hold her first two fingers while closing the last two fingers. Once she phonologically manipulated it well, she then could use the handshape "U" instead of "R".

Then next week, Juli's phonological handshape quickly transitioned from the "R" handshape to the "U" handshape in train, uncle, and sit-down.

Interestingly, the "R" handshape remained the same in Juli's signed name, because the handshape in her signed name is a bent "V", unlike the "U" handshape. In some cases, she used the "U" handshape as a substitute for "V" (e.g. raccoon, snake, and lamb/sheep.

Emerging ASL handshape 2-bent

At age 2;4,3, Juli began to phonologically form the handshape "2-bent" as seen in entertainment-fair, sled, and cherry. (see video)

In her phonological process, previously Juli first formed the handshape "R" (in which the crossed fingers helped her control this handshape), then formed the handshape "U" as in train and sit.

Lately the handshape "V" appeared to be mature that Juli comfortably formed it in her ASL words, such as stand.

Now the handshape "bent-V" recently emerged first as in entertainment-fair. Further with curiosity, I asked Juli to produce potato and her signed name Juli and she did. (not on video)

However, Juli didn't form this handshape "V" as a standalone for the ASL cardinal number "two". This handshape "2" can be found in ASL words or signs, not in its standalone handshape.

Conversely, a long while ago, Juli was able to form the handshape "R" as a standalone or for the alphabetical letter "R" but she didn't incorporate it into ASL word rocket, for example, until some time later.

Language development

Juli used personal pronoun in ASL sentences more often now. want bath me++ ("I want a bath."), Juli baby ix-me++ ("I'm a baby."), mother + baby, you + me ("mother and baby, that is you and me")

Some of the following random words and phrases that Juli used this week: flowery dress, rabbit store (a pet store), sleep, some more shown in the video above, and other ASL words mentioned in the past months.

Related posts

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.