Infants usually produce their first words when they approach their first birthday. Cooing emerge at about weeks four to six. Canonical babbling (repeated syllables) appear at about 6-7 months.
Between babbling at 6-7 months and first words in reference to objects or people at around 10 months, infants tend to overgenerize their first words to objects or people. For example, like many infants, Juli not only vocally called me "mama" but also called her father "mama". In sign language, Juli called both dogs and cats as "dog" until late 9 months old.
On several occasions, as I held Juli (10 months old, week 1) in my arms, she pointed toward the DVD player and produced a recognizable ASL word music that I clearly noticed. Contexts helped.
Prior to this, I had signed music in the past weeks, especially every time I turned on the vinyl record player. And, every time I started the vinyl record player, Juli often pointed toward the DVD player on the shelf. That is, she categorized the vinyl record player with the DVD player under the category of music.
The phonological movement of the ASL word music was well identified, which was distinct from the movement prime of done/finish.
One day, Juli looked at the artworks on the wall. She produced the "sae" babbling sequence (the same movement from the past in reference to "art") and then she turned around and pointed toward the DVD player and produced music (usually left-handed).
During the first week at 10 month old, I described how I first noticed the emerging referential ASL word music that Juli had produced. Sure enough, in the second week it had became a clearer reference in different contexts. Signing music was the rage that week.
Every time I turned on the record player, Juli produced one-handed music without using the base (arm). Likewise, Juli pointed toward the DVD player and produced music herself.
Entering a gallery room at the major gallery one day, Juli repeatedly produced music. There was music in the gallery room.
In parallel to a similar language development in sign language, Juli also used spoken English. For example, she pointed to the football, and vocally produced "ball".
Toward the third week (m11w3), I paid attention to Juli's babbles and emerging words more closely but often found myself dismissing Juli's clap-like or clapping babble.
At mealtimes I found Juli often produce a "more" babble lately and I began to realize that I often dismissed it but now I began to pay attention to determine the contexts.
Each time I gave Juli a few cut pieces of the grape, she ate them all and then produced more. I saw this somehow in a more linguistic light more than just clapping.
That early week the moment I put Juli in the highchair, out of the corner of my eye, I caught her uttering eat -- 5 handshape onto the mouth a few times. It was a distinct production in the right context.
It was not the first time she produced it. I didn't take the first seriously until she produced something more than a second time. And I was also busy to take the first production seriously.
From there, Juli produced eat a few times, usually around in the kitchen.
By the end of that 11th month, Juli still produced the ASL word music which remained to be highly consistent with the referents in different contexts -- the portable DVD player, the record player, the playstation's music center, and other referents.
An usage of the ASL word finish/done had become clearer both in its reference to contexts.
Juli was seen producing eat (open 5-handshape tapping onto the mouth a few times), open 5-handshape tapping on the cheek (new, recently noticed), and a few other distinct, non-referential expressions or imitations.
Videoclip: Juli produced eat (beginning of the video). I introduced the numbers into daily life to Juli. Juli appeared to produce finish/done (end of the video).
Video clip: Juli seemed to be looking for a specific image, turning the pages and pages. She probably missed a page of what she was looking for. She then tried again and finally found a page of the cat.
One Monday morning a month before (age 0;9), as a frequently visiting neighbor cat passed by the low window, at the precise time Juli made some noise. The cat suddently freezed and looked up through the window.
Quickly I grabbed Juli and showed her the cat. As I pointed to the cat, the cat walked away. Coincidentally, the animal book lying nearby showed an image of the cat. I pointed at it and uttered the ASL word cat, cat, cat.
Juli looked and thought for a moment. She tapped on her lap. She associated this older ASL word with both dogs and cats.
I turned the pages, pointed to the image of a dog, and uttered #dog, then tapping on my lap. I pointed to the cat and uttered cat. I added vocalized gestures to both of them: "woof" and "meow" along with the ASL words. Juli smiled and giggled at the "woof" sounds (or maybe my facial expression).
At one point this week Juli looked at the purple stuffed giraffe and tapped on her lap. Okay, a concept of "animal" in her own language.
At age 0;10, Juli's father reported that he signed cat along with the vocalized "meow". Then the chain reaction began as follows:
Juli picked up the book and opened to the page where an image of a cat depicted. Then she went on to another book and turned the pages till an image of another cat appeared. And, next one she opened another page that contained an image of yet another cat.
It showed Juli's ability in categorizing a group of the cats, despite that she sometimes tapped her hand on her leg (which means "dog") when referring to a cat.
Juli had a conversation moment with her Grandma Z and Grandpa K (who had a Movember moustache).
In a particular part of the video, Juli pointed (presumbly toward the record player). Z nodded, "mother will go there." Juli "danced" and produced the ASL word music.
Juli (m12w1) used the ASL word finish/done in the right contexts last week. It became a bit clearer this week when Grandma Z came to look after Juli for a few hours and observed the same.
When I came back home, Z reported that she noticed Juli signing done/finish within the right context -- even just in a few hours of babysitting.
Z suggested "Look closely from now on." I told her that it actually had happened for quite a while.
The video clip above shows a literacy activity with the baby Juli.
Gaze-following is when baby is interested in looking where you look. If you look out the window at a cat walking by, baby will follow the direction.
Sometime between 10 and 11 months old, baby begins to follow grown-ups' gazes, which is one of the achievements in infant development.
Gaze-following is important for language acquisition. A study shows that infants, who follow parents' gaze and listen to what they talk about, develop language. It supports a correlation between gazing and language development.
Juli (m12w2) often produced three different ASL words that the parameters (handshape, movement, and palm orientation) of these words happened to be somehow similar: tree, finish, and music.
With the similar productions (e.g. twisting "5" handshape) for these ASL words, it appeared to be a little difficult to distinct one from the others, but they usually were easily determined within the contexts.
The ASL word music that Juli produced was easy to recognize. Another word finish/done was also not hard to identify. As for the word tree, it was sometimes uncertain, sometimes clear.
On the other hand, Grandmother Z had her own way. She said that Juli pointed and produced tree on several occasions when they looked out the kitchen window where they could see trees in the backyard.
(m12w3) One Sunday Juli uttered done/finish herself as soon as Dude turned off the vacuum and was about to unplug it. I didn't sign anything prior to that while I held her in my arms.
Juli regularly utters finish/done when she is full or doesn't want to eat more. Then her meal is over. I no longer can guess by her behaviors such as cleaning up the tray, dropping food on the floor or such.
Juli imitated (if not referred to a referent) some ASL words, such as snow (open hand moving down from up).
Got a story to tell your experience and share it with others? Send an email to Handspeak. I'd love to hear about it, too.
"My son is now one year old. About two months ago, I looked up the sign for 'medicine' because he had been given an antibiotic for his cold, and I wanted to describe it in ASL for him. Well, I showed it to him only about three times. Two months passed, and he got a sinus infection. I was talking to him about taking his medicine. when I said 'medicine,' he made this sign I didn't recognize. He put one finger on the middle of his other palm. I thought it was kind of funny that he did it every time I said 'medicine' but that he must have made it up because I couldn't place it. just to be sure, though, I looked up the sign for medicine again. It's the truth, my one year old son remembered the sign for medicine that I showed him only three times, two months ago, and I didn't!! I guess us human beings are amazing creatures. We are never too old to stop learning, and never too young to teach! I am grateful for the wonderful resources (such as your site!!) that have allowed me to learn ASL so that i can teach it to my son. It's altered my perspective in so many magical ways! thanks for everything!" -- Aleta. May 6, 2003.
".. started signing with my daugther at around 10 months .. these first signs gave her the ability to tell us her core wants and needs. I didn't realize how much she was able to communicate .. until I babysat another baby close to her age. .. I asked. No response. She just smiled. In these circumstances, my daughter would have clearly said (her desires) indicating what she wanted, but this little girl could not speak that way. Sign language is tremendously empowering to babies who know and see much more than we think.
My daughter (19 months) now talks a blue streak, but she still uses signs for emphasis .. it makes me so happy that she can say what she wants so clearly .." -- Robin Parker, Canada. February 21, 2002.
"We have used this site to teach our (not deaf) 10-month old over 12 different signs so far. She LOVES having the power to be understood LONG before she's able to speak, and we LOVE being able to understand her wants and needs." -- September 26, 2000. "It is absolutely AMAZING to me how fast my daughter has picked this stuff up!!" -- Marti Hall, September 27, 2000.
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.