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Bilingual cross-language influences in ASL and English

Bilingual children show some cross-language influences in both languages they speak. Not surprisingly, the bilingual preschooler Juli had demonstrated a few signs of a cross-language influence in her ASL and English.

Though English has been exposed to her since birth, ASL had been her primary language. Juli went through the same language milestones in spoken English as her ASL like any other spoken languages, but like many sequential bilingual children, she began to acquire English at age two. It's a normal timeline for a second language acquistion in sequential bilingual children.

Lately Juli had revealed a few evidences that grammar and semantics in her English language affects ASL. There were some fundamental differences in grammatical rules and contextual meanings in English and ASL that I could recognize in Juli's sentences.

For example, Juli signed eat after go. The gloss "after" is English. In ASL, one is supposed to sign as follows finish(when). Interesting thing was that Juli meant "before" in this context, but she understood the contextual meaning but used a reversal error.

Another example: a week or two ago, Juli signed ix boy have miss teeth. There are three different meanings thus three different signs in ASL for one English word "miss". She signed "miss" as in not-catch (e.g. miss a bus). In this contextual sentence, she should sign "miss" as in "gone/miss/absent".

Another example, Juli signed father come-here pick-me me. The pronoun is redundant.

In the next weeks, I noticed several times that Juli signed such as two big, two small, me two and so on. It's a classical English-speaking characteristic. I instructed her to sign #too small or #too big and me too. Note that there are two different signs for #too and too/also.

At about age 3;5, Juli still signed two hot. I corrected her, #too hot. Whenever she signed "two hot", I asked, "two, huh?" She corrected herself, #too.

Similarly around this time, she sometimes signed LIKE as in "affection" (English) for "also" (ASL). For example, she signed like father (as in "to like father"). I corrected her, like father (as in "to be like father").

This "LIKE" meaning is not unusual in ASL students. I have been teaching ASL classes for years and it's very common.

However, as Juli was eventually learning that a meaning of a word in one language in a context is not the same as in another language in a different context. She eventually will learn to separate a corpus of meanings in one language (ASL) from another corpus of meanings in another language (English). It's the same true for bilingual children in any two spoken languages.

At early age 4, Juli continued to use LIKE (semantic error) as in feeling for LIKE/SIMILAR because of the bilingual influence. I kept correcting every time; eventually, at age 4;5, sometimes she signed it correctly and sometimes, she self-corrected herself.

However, she signed SOMETIME++ correctly, never signing SOME+TIME that one can often see a hearing ASL student signing it incorrectly. If I recall correctly, I think I caught Juli signing SOME+TIME only once but I quickly corrected. It appears that at that very moment, she recognized a difference between English and ASL words for that concept, and wondered if she should change that to follow the English compound "some+time". But, then she kept the original ASL sign always.

Language development

Some of the following examples that Juli had uttered during the middle period of this (third) month in March: ix-me dizzy after she twirled around. ix-me cannot catch sunlight when trying to catch the sun rays in the family room.

One morning Juli got up and thought for a moment. She signed dog quiet sleep, not fear dream. I wasn't sure if she talked about her dream.

ix-you sick, need medicine, get better now. She turned to the cabinet where medicine was stuffed.

Another day, Juli slept one night and I had nausea. Next morning, I explained to Juli in ASL (translated as), "Last night I had nausea and was sick a bit. I had to vomit."

Juli listened and made a suggestion ix-you need medicine cow milk. I declined, "No, I don't need it. I feel better now, though." Juli insisted, you need medicine cow milk. I explained, No, not serious. Juli signed, ix-you go-to see doctor.

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.