Baby babbling meaning in sign language

Researchers find that baby babbling may have a meaning. Syllabic babbling is used to be dismissed as meaningless babbles. But, if one pays close attention to baby's babbles, there may be a meaning. If it's "mama", it's easier to recognize.

In my case with 7 months old Juli, the word "work" in sign language (ASL) was her first babble that first emerged in manual babbling.

One evening Dude, who was absent for a long day, arrived home. Juli babbled "work" the moment she saw her father. It was a distinct response.

Juli first was observed doing this babble when I left for work the other day (post at 0;6,4). As I started working part time prior to her first babble, Juli learned the association of my absence with the ASL word "work" I exposed it to her.

One late night, I came home from work. Dude was holding Juli in his arms in the garage when I parked my car. The moment I got out of the car, Juli lit up eyes when she saw me and she babbled "work".

The other day Dude was about to leave for work, Juli babbled "work" and crawled toward him.

Typically, babies vocally babble "mama" (or "dada") unspecifically to a mother or a father (indiscriminately) until about 10 months old, earlier or later. Likewise, babies categorizes dogs, cats, and even some furry animals together and identify them under one word.

It appears that babies learn to recognize differences between categories and to narrow down categories.

Similarly, it could be that Juli associated the babble "work" with either a mother or father being absent or gone for a day. It may be pretty much a broad concept that baby can grasp.

Ask and Answer Questions

Question: How do you know the difference between the ASL babble "work" and the gesture "clapping"?

It's worthy to mention that I had never clapped with Juli. I expressed praises through other ways than clapping for a reason. It was simply a language instinct.

The day when Juli could produce ASL words "more", "shoes", "ball", and many other words of the similar productions during the earliest ASL phonological development, these ASL words alone would pose a challenge enough to identify the productions without contexts.

So, clapping would add an unnecessary challenge that I wanted to avoid until Juli progressed further phonological development (e.g. expanding handshapes (other than the open handshape) and movements).

Inevitably, when Juli babbled the patterned phonologically units of "work", a naive adult would simply think of clapping and respond by imitating her "claps".

The babble Juli produced had a distinct movement that followed the pattern of ASL word "work" that we often exposed her to prior to her first babble. See the other post which explains about the dominant and passive hands.

I let my family members know about it so they didn't clap much often. Instead, tell good+job! and such.

The faintest emerging ASL words

Watching Juli transition from the babbling stage at 6-7 months to the recognizable word in signlan at 10-12 months was like stretching time in slow motion. It was fascinating.

If Juli's some babbles were meaningful or referential, it would be very difficult to idenitfy unless a context was obvious and/or when a produced word had a recognizable pattern of the regular ASL word.

For example, one weekend, Juli (at 9 months old, week 4) was in her highchair. At the end of a meal, Juli raised her arms/hands and waved up and down. She had babbled this such way in the past days or weeks. It was so easy to dismiss this potentially referential meaning as a babble.

But that time with the specific -- more refined -- movement, I intuitively first recognized that she meant finish/done. Being a native signer of native-signlan family, I was sure of my instinct. Eventually, later, her production became more refined and recognizable as "finished/done".

Later that same day, Grandma Z reported that in her interaction with Juli, she signed grandfather referring to the painting above them. Z recognized that Juli was trying to produce a similar movement of the signed word grandfather.

That somehow confirmed that both of us sensed something the same without me telling Grandma Z prior. Now we could recognize these "babbles" as words, not babbles. How far had Juli used the "babbles" actually as words?

With a baby's limited productions (whether spoken or signed), it wasn't easy to recognize until productions became more refined and recognizable for adults. For example, when Juli "clapped" (not that clap as in excitment) without forming its correct handshape, it could be "shoes", "ball", "more", and such that I often used these with her. It wouldn't be easy to tell without the help of contexts.

First words are usually a word with repeated syllable, whether in speech or signlan. For example, "mama", "dada", etc in spoken language and syllabic signs (e.g. "more", "ball", etc) in sign language.

Related posts

"Language to the baby, babbling to us, oops!" link to m12w5


"Researchers find meaning in baby babbling."