ASL phonology: handshapes 3, 7, and 8

The bilingual preschooler appeared to enter the late stage of the phonological acquisition in handshapes.

Linguistic studies show that the handshapes "7" and "8" are usually ones of the last handshapes to acquire in phonological development in American Sign Language (ASL). Note that signing children develop at different rates.

The emergence of ASL handshape 3 in preschooler

At the right time for the preschooler Juli's third birthday, the handshape "3" emerged. It took three years to phonologically develop the handshape "3". When asking her how old she was, she replied three with the correct handshape.

Did you know that using thumb is one of the later handshapes to acquire in small ASL-speaking children? The earliest unmarked handshapes begin with: A, 5, C, G (index figner), B, and baby O for about first two years. Then more handshapes unfold one after another.

During these first two years, toddlers produce many of ASL signs without using their thumbs. For example, they may use the "A" handshape or the location of the palm of the "5" handshape for mother, where the proper ASL sign for "mother" is to use the thumb of the "5" handshape on the cheek.

Juli had acquired numeral incorporation of the plural pronoun as in two-us at age 2;11. Naturally, with already acquired numeral incorporation, at age 3;2 (week 2), Juli acquired another plural pronoun three-of-us or we-three.

That is, Juli signed three-us go basement (referring to her grandmother, herself and me) at Grandma Z's house. From there on, she was seen signing this plural pronoun from time to time.

ASL handshape "4"

Now the next handshape "4". I asked her to count from one to five. She counted following me. She did the handshape "4" with the thumb in. I don't know when she began acquiring this handshape, probably a long while ago when she was able to control her thumb.

The emergence of ASL handshapes 7 and 8

The three-year-old bilingual preschooler Juli had been in the phase of counting numbers in ASL. Although, much earlier Juli had counted the numbers from one up to ten in spoken English. That was a different story when it came to counting in ASL because of difficult phonological development with the ASL numeral handshapes.

The marked handshapes 7 and 8 are some most difficult in phonological acquisition in ASL. They usually are acquired in the late, if not the last, stage of phonological acquisition.

Juli could count numbers from one to five easily in ASL, where the handshapes from one to five and ten were the easiest to form.

Even though, Juli could form the standalone handshapes 6 and 9 quite easily and they were already incorporated in many ASL words. But, when it came to use these handshapes 6 and 9 in counting. The process in the brain appeared to be different for these same handshapes in ASL numbers (counting) and ASL words (producing).

At this time (age 3;4), Juli could count from one to six, produced vaguely, and then jumped to ten. During the first week of May, she had been practicing forming the handshapes seven and eight. She proudly showed some ASL and LSQ signers her handshape 8.

At age 3;5, Juli finally counted from one to seven and then jumped to nine or ten, fifteen, and eleven in order as she tried to count the furthest.

At around this time, she also identified the o'clock, numerally fingerspelling the numbers from right to left (just like she did in her early reading the letters from right to left). Unlike counting, she had no problem forming all numeral handshapes, including seven and eight, when identifying the time.

At age 3;7, Juli was seen signing with the open "8" handshape in tablet, sick, medicine, etc.

Other phonological development

At age 3;4, Juli produced butterfly perfectly with the right handshape, palm orientation, and location.

Juli (age 4;4) now formed the handshape "K" or "P", which both have the same handshape but different palm orientation) perfectly. When Juli read and fingerspelled the alphabetical letters of the title of a book herself, Juli manually spelled "Belly Book" with the perfect production, including the letter K.

Related posts

Also see phonological acquisition with handshapes R, U, V at age 2, K or P, T at 2.5, I, L, Y at age 2;8.

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.