Toddler fingerspelling and signing fingerspelled loans

The difference between fingerspelled loans and fingerspelling is that fingerspelling is spelling out a series of the alphabetical letters (e.g. letter by letter) to form a spoken/written word. On the other hand, fingerspelled loans are the ASL signs.

A fingerspelled loan is the whole ASL sign/word, not a set of individual fingerspelled letters. It's similar to any spoken languages which loan foreign words from other languages to incorporate into their own languages. That is, ASL loans some words from English. The gloss using the hash (#) represents a fingerspelled loan.

Two weeks ago (at age 2;5,2) Juli produced the fingerspelled loans as if they were the ASL signs rather than letter by letter.

For example, at the 50th year celebration event hosted by a bilingual preschool, I reminded Juli to take her shoes off before playing in the inflated playhouse. After a while, she went back to that site alone and uttered to herself shoes #off. I caught her fingerspelling a fingerspelled loan for the first time.

Few days later, Juli again uttered #off when making a request for me to turn off the screen.

Another fingerspelled loan emerged to my surprise. Juli informed me by pointing at her bottom and then uttered #pee. Her configuration was very similar to #bee but I understood her in this clear context.

I knew that producing #pee is a very long process than pointing to nose (some people use for "pee"). I sometimes used this but I found myself naturally signing #pee rather than adapting it.

Juli also produced #TV with the "A" handshape for T and partial "V" with spread fingers. The handshapes T and V are two difficult phonological units to produce at this stage.

In the following week, Juli fingerspelled #zoo somehow completely. The alphanetical letter "z" was one of the earliest and easiest manual letters to produce during her early toddlerhood.

In addition to fingerspelled loans (at age 2;5,4), Juli began to practice fingerspelling a word or a name. In no time, she began to fingerspell a few words, officially a milestone of fingerspelling.

Her first partial fingerspelled word traced back to age 2;0,1 which was "Baraka", the title of a documentary movie, when she just turned two. She could only spell "Bara", since the manual letter "K" was one of the most difficult handshapes to form.

But, the letter D, O, R, and A were readily fingerspell-able that Juli was able to spell the word "Dora" perfectly by herself. She did fingerspell it completely by herself when talking about Dora more several times this week.

Juli also still fingerspelled z-o-o, but it functions as a fingerspelled loan.

Next another day, the old incompletely fingerspelled "Baraka" returned. Juli picked up a "Samsara" DVD disc and fingerspelled b-a-r-a. She wanted to watch it.

At times, Juli also fingerspelled some that I couldn't recognize, except for one that I caught in the context: "raisin" which she formed the first alphabetical letter R which helped.

Fingerspelling her own name

Juli (age 2;10,1) was able to roughly form the manual letters J (the same handshape as I), L and I, I thought it was time to teach her how to spell her name.

I asked her in ASL what her name was. She signed her name. I asked her to fingerspell her name and guided her through. She labored forming the difficult letters J, L and I. For her, the manual letter L was the most difficult, which was harder to control the thumb and the index finger together than manipulating the pinkie.

Fingerspelling acquisition

Pingu out. Baraka in. Whenever Juli (age 2;0,1) wished to watch the movie "Baraka", she fingerspelled the title "Baraka" of the movie by producing the similar pattern of movement. Encouraging her to fingerspell it, she copied my fingerspelling as far as the first four letters #BARA.

In no time, Juli eventualy began to fingerspell #BAR by herself when she asked for the movie to watch. It was her first fingerspelled word though partially.

But, it wasn't new. Juli began finger-babbling as far as the recorded video of around 10 months old. On the receptive skill, when I fingerspelled the word #foot (fingerspelled loan), she pointed to her foot at age one (just after her first birthday).

Unlike receptive skill and comprehension, the ability to physically form the smallest units of language takes a long time to develop. It is no difference in sign language from speech language.

Fingerspelling two words

A surprising and exciting moment was that Juli (age 2;7,3) fingerspelled two words by herself for the first time, which was: fs-dora #TV (video). She wanted to watch the "Dora" program on Netflix.

For the past few weeks, Juli had two choices of toothpastes, one called "Dora" (because of its picture on the toothpaste) and the other one plainly called "Colgate" (no brand preference) which I shared mine with her.

Nightly, I would ask her which one of these toothpastes she wanted. I fingerspelled both of them, which ix-finger(index) fs-dora #or ix-finger(middle) fs-colgate you want?. Most of the time, Juli would fingerspell "Dora".

Whenever Juli chose Colgate, I helped her fingerspell letter by letter. She formed all the alphabetical letters of the word perfectly including the handshape T, except for the letters L and E.

One day in the third week of this month, without me asking nor uttering anything, Juli herself fingerspelled fs-corate--gate (video). I believe she spelled "e" at the end but it was sloppy and quick. She probably spelled the first part and then corrected herself by spelling the second part again, realizing that she forgot the "g" part.

Fingerspelling, reading, and literacy

While there has been a long process to this point, it was the time to expand. I began to fingerspell gradually more when introducing her to some selected English words.

First, I signed an ASL word and then fingerspelled an English word. E.g. "ball", etc. I consciously selected words that began with common patterns and short words as well phonologically capable for Juli to spell eventually. Then, build towards more complex forms once Juli developed phonologically more.

Language development

Some of the following random words and phrases that Juli used this week: story, you sit-down, , some more shown in the video above, and other ASL words mentioned in the past months.

Related posts

Also see Reading and Fingerspelling at age three.

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.