The one word stage in sign language

The one-word stage begins at around first birthday as commonly found in spoken language acquistion. Sign language is no exception. As the baby Juli approached her first birthday, one ASL word after another began to unfold more and relatively quicker.

Emerging one-word stage in sign language

The last couple of weeks shy away from the first birthday was somehow like a beginning of the one-word "blossoming". A time distance between two new ASL protowords had become gradually shorter and shorter.

Producing ASL words

Juli was eyeing for a partially bitten cookie lying on the plate on a Christmas Day. She pointed to it and looked at her second cousin "RG". RG responded cookie in ASL.

Juli thought for a moment. Then she tried to produce cookie.

Lately Juli has produced or imitated some ASL words that were more recognizable within the contexts than previously considered as babbles: cookie as illustrated above, grape, Christmas, milk (yes, we haven't used this in a long time)...

Juli produced Christmas on Christmas Day. Few days later Juli sat on my lap while she watched the video I edited. She responded to the baby producing Christmas. I replayed the videos more than few times, and her productions were highly consistent.

This incident is similar to the "bear" incident two weeks ago, in which Juli responded to the video doing the same babble or production. This suggests that she understood what she saw on the video.

Video clips: Daily interactions with Juli. In one part where Juli sat with her back in front of me, she turned around to listen visually. It was pretty natural. Face to face interaction is not necessarily always.

Emerging more ASL referential words

(m12w5) In addition to some recent ASL words that Juli had produced -- e.g. Christmas and cookie, she had produced some more ASL expressions that were recognizable with a clear reference and some distinct productions but I don't know their references yet.

One of those distinct expressions was "driving a car". She razzied while moving her hands up and down somehow alternatively. [video above]

Another distinct referential production was vaccuum. Juli often pointed to the vacuum and produced vacuum with a razzy.

Juli "clapped" with two fists (ball) when she walked toward a big blue ball. This time the handshape had changed to the fist handshape. In the past, the handshape was an open handshape which looked like claps.

Some few other ASL productions were clear but their references were unknown. For examples, the right-handed 5-handshape (or open handshape) tapping on her chest was what I interpreted as "bath" where she was undressed down to a diaper and the bathroom light was turned on. But, I cannot assume this connection to a meaning.

Another, Juli tapped her fist or closed handshape on the side of her head. My first guess was its reference to "father". But, I would have to wait and look closely in the next days.

Language to her, babbling to us, oops!

In the past weeks, I watched Juli producing something that was babbling to our eye. Sometimes I wondered if she was expressing something meaningfully that we never could comprehend. Wish I would understand her "babbles" if not unmeaningful.

Bingo! I had my luck that I could connect her "babble" (that is, a symbol) to the object. See the video below and then the discussion after that.

One morning I noticed the babble a few times more or less. I dismissed it that it was too a babble more than a word. Also following the babble, Juli produced eat (now with a fist rather than an open hand).

That time, I was preparing fruits including a banana for the smoothie. Soon I'd forgot about this competely.

Later in the same day, Juli produced the same distinct "babble" more than few times that I noticed. At first, I casually assumed that Juli was referring to a bread. Or even butter. I responded with a nod, bread.

At that time, I was making a toast with butter, apple sauce, and banana sprinkled with cinnamon.

Yet Juli kept pointing and babbling while the toast was in a different location. I took this opportunity. This time I suspected it was banana.

I pointed to and picked up a jar of apple sauce. Juli still pointed. I pointed and picked up a bottled water. Juli still pointed with determination. I handed her butter. She still pointed. I picked up the banana. Her handshape changed from index finger to the open handshape ("that-one").

Resisting to hand the banana to her and delaying her gratification, I further tested by placing the banana to the other side. Juli pointed and I pointed. Still pointed. I picked up the banana and Juli changed the handshape to "that-one".

After reviewing and editing the videos, I just realized that Juli referred the "babble" to the banana that morning. Further I realized that it was two words banana eat!

Now I also realized that Juli, like many other babies, might have communicated meaningfully much more than we could understand. It was not easy to identify what were considered babbles due to the earliest phonological development.

At the beginning of third week, I noticed an emerging difference about her communication. She talked more as if we were having a conversation.

The one word stage

The one word stage begins at around first birthday as commonly found in spoken language acquistion. Sign language is no exception. As the baby Juli approached her first birthday, one referential ASL word after another began to unfold more and relatively quicker.

Emerging some more ASL words

The baby Juli's first birthday. Her daily vocabulary gradually increased and expanded

It was amazing to watch Juli unfolding obscure productions (what were once thought of as babbles) into more recognizable ASL words. Also, sometimes she imitated or produced a ASL word right away when I uttered to her an ASL word.

Juli ate some pieces of a melon for the past few days. I introduced the ASL word to her. Lately, she produced: right-handed open palm onto left-handed top of the hand, moving twice.

One Monday evening in highchair Juli produced the same when she pointed to the melon cubes in a bowl on the countertop on her left side. Then later, she uttered the same when she pointed and/or gazed at some canteloupe and honeydew (I tended to cluster them all into the "melon" family).

Other words that Juli imitated when we signed were: comb-hair (Juli produced with left-handed index-finger moving down her head), cook, scared, and some others.

One day I gave Juli a new book "Lift and Learn". Juli produced herself the ASL word apple with the distinct (and correct) movement (left-handed) when she came across an image of two apples.

"Is that right?" I thought. First, I had never seen her uttering apple before.

Second, it was the first time she looked at that image (and that book), that is, in a new context.

Third, we hadn't eaten an apple in a very long time except for once a little while ago.

A few days later, I finally captured her production (right-handed this time) on video. Sure enough, she produced the same. Babies do have good memories.

The ASL words melon, penguin, and apple were the ones that Juli uttered them herself without me signing when she came across the images.

People's Stories

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.

The hard-of-hearing baby just turned one year old. He signed "horse" in ASL. Notice that the baby used the handshape "15" of "HORSE" instead of the handshape "13" at this phonological stage.

Signing Baby

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 documentation continues to follow the same one-year-old 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 third year documentation continues to follow the same child's ASL language and literacy development on a regular basis from age two to three. It surveys ASL phonological acquisition and more complex utterances.

The fourth year documentation 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.

This five-year documentation and project follows the bilingual child's natural language acquisition in sign language from newborn to age five.