The emergence of canonical babbling in sign language

Canonical (reduplicated) babbling is usually identified with the onset of babbling at around 6-7 months. It consists of reduplicated syllables (i.e. "babababa").

To distinguish canonical babbling (e.g. "bababa") from the earlier marginal babbling (e.g. "ba"), canonical babbling includes syllables in a timing relationship that conforms to mature language restrictions.

The onset of the stage is relatively sudden, and many of these units are reduplicated (e.g. "bababa" and "dadada" in speech or "closing-opening-hand" and "batting-up-down" in signlan).

Ever since the first evening I was out for work, I showed Juli my black workbag to create an association of my long-hours absence with work. I explained to Juli mother drive, go-to work now. mother ix-me will-be home.

The ASL word work had been one of the most frequently used words in the past weeks. Dude went to work -- father go-to work. [bye-bye]. He came back home -- father work done/finish, now home! and such.

Videoclip: As I was preparing for work another evening, Grandma Z held Juli in arm and explained mother will go-to work. ix-she will come-back. (The first frame of the video showed "work" that I began videotaping a bit late.)

Then Juli babbled, probably imitating what Grandma Z signed. Among the babbles, one stood out distinctly was the ASL word work.

As I was about to leave, I explained to her again including the word work. Juli was producing what looked like "work".

That is, Juli picked up a pattern from our language and produced her first babble based on the pattern of the ASL word, "work".

The emergence of other babbles

Juli still babbled in the ASL form of "work". A few other babbles had emerged this week or before. In addition, gestural communication began to emerge more.

Babbling "dog" in ASL

A month later (m8w4), Juli's paternal relative, who lived out of state, wanted to adopt the dog we temporarily called "Deputy". He asked that we picked him up at SPCA. For the next half week, we had to look after him till the flight date.

As a result, the ASL word #dog and/or the older ASL sign "patting-on-leg" were the most frequently used this week.

Before Deputy flew for his new home, Juli had been babbling the patterned units of the older ASL sign. Juli was patting on her leg.

The day before Deputy departed, Juli woke up one morning. As soon as she sat up herself, she patted on her thigh so distinctively.

Babbling "mama" (vocal)

Juli vocalized "mama" or sometimes whimpered "mmmm" usually when she looked for me in my office when I was out for work.

One day (or night) this week, when I came back home from work, Juli reached out her arms excitedly and vocalized "mamama".

The second time I returned home from work, Juli again reached out her arm and mouthed "mamamama".

Reduplicated syllabic (canonical) babbling

By the end of 7 months old, Juli had babbled manually and vocally much more often, especially with the syllabic pattern of the ASL word "work".

Dominance-base rule

In ASL linguistics, the Symmetry Condition (Battison) states that, if both hands in a two-handed signed word move, then the handshape must be the same and the movement is either alternating or simultaneous. E.g. bath, maybe, etc.

On the other hand, the Dominance Condition states that, if the hand has a different handshape in a two-handed sign, then only the dominant or active hand can move while the base hand remains stationary (not moving). E.g. enough, cookie.

For right-handed signers, the right hand is the active or dominant hand, while the left hand is the passive or base hand. The opposite is true for left-handed signers.

It is a natural rule that governs the structure of signed language. Native signers didn't consciously create this rule.

It is interesting to observe that Juli had been babbling with one active hand onto the base hand. It can indicate that Juli might be right-handed, but it was still early to determine.

Studies show that syllables in vocal babbling prior to around 8th month can be found undifferentiated among babies across different cultures. Then, the patterns in syllables develop a bit more that is found in an adult language of their own culture.

Likewise, the syllables found in Juli's manual babbling appeared to be based on the patterns of ASL words such as: work, shoes, more, be-careful.

These two-handed ASL words had been regularly exposed to Juli for the past months. And, one of the primes (location, movement, and handshape) of the ASL words was similar in one way or another. But, what all of these words had in common was that both hands were in contact.

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.