Toddler asking a question in sign language

Prior to using a wh-question, a (hearing or not) baby may ask a question by gazing at an object or person, reaching for an object or person, and/or pointing to or touching something.

The baby Juli did these -- e.g. pointing to something and looking at me with a subtle questioning facial expression. Looking at me didn't always come with a question facial expression as Juli and I understood each other and our ways too well.

With a bit of research what to expect with the timeline of emerging wh-questions, based on the information from the book (Linder 2008). Asking "where" questions occurs at 26-32 months. Prior to this, children ask "What's that" or "Dat?" and/or asking with rising intonation. Remember that toddlers develop at different rates.

Toddler asking "where" in sign language

The toddler Juli (age 2;6,1) now used the ASL word where in a wh-question sentence.

But, the ASL word where didn't come with the question marker (burrowed eyebrows equivalent to vocal intotation for questions); nevertheless, it was clearer.

Asking "where" questions had been a robust evidence that week that I was able to capture some on video. Juli had uttered questions as follows: where violin-bow, where baby-bottle (new toy to explore), where (lady)bug, and so on.

Juli was so cute when she buried my home key under the grass and uttered where ix-key by pointing to the buried key instead of the ASL word "key" like she gave the answer in the question.

Toddler asking "What for?" in ASL

It had been a while since the toddler (age 2;8,1) Juli had been curious. She checked anything that was new to her or that she hadn't noticed before or hadn't thought of before.

Juli opened small drawers, boxes, chests, and cabinets inspecting every object. She inspected new objects around on the surfaces.

Whenever she came across a new object that she had no experience with, sometimes she would ask ix(object) for?. I'd explain what it's used for.

Over the past weeks, Juli pointed at the objects and asked ix(object) for? such as: eyelash shaper, belt, cloth tape, eye contact len containers, potato masher, etc.


Linder, T. (2008). Transdisciplinary play-based assessment, 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing. Pp 269-272.

Language development

Some of the following random words and phrases that Juli used this week: you[em] twirl (new skill she learned to spin herself around), ix-me want++ video, ix-me want+ ipad, ix-me want cl-walk[on rail], #OK, some more shown in the video above, and other ASL words mentioned in the past months.

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.