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Language development milestones in American Sign Langauge from age 0 to 5

Studies show that the stages of language acquisition from birth to age 5 and beyond in visual-spatial modality (sign language) and vocal-auditory modality (speech language) are not only in the same order but also on the same timeline.

0-3 months: the fourth trimester

In this period, babies produce coos and goos -- both vocally and manually.

0-4 months; marginal babbling

In this stage, baby learns to coordinate her/his motor skills.

Baby produces "vocal play" as well as "manual play". Babies from different cultures or linguistic environments and even deaf babies babble non-distinguished sounds.

7-10 months: canonical (syllabic) babbling

Canonical babbling is when babies produced reduplicated syllables.

In speech (vocal babbling), babies produce syllabic consonant-vowel repetitions. E.g. "dadadada", "babababa" and other meaningless sounds.

Babies, who are exposed to signlan, also do manual babbling, producing syllabic hold-movement repetitions. E.g. opening and closing hand repeatedly.

9-11 months: finger pointing

Finger pointing emerges at around 9 months and becomes communicative at 11 months.

10-12 months: sophisticated (variegated) babbling

Babies develop some fine motor skills, such as pointing, waving, and picking up small objects.

At this stage, pointing with index finger also began to emerge as early as 9-10 months or as late as 12 months. Pointing is a non-linguistic though communicative gesture apart from babbling and language.

At this "sophisticated babbling" stage, babies of English speaking parents babble constonant-vowel-constonant (CVC). On the other hand, babies of ASL-speaking families babble with more varied patterns.

From this stage, babies develop toward their first words at average 12 months. Although, at this stage a baby may utter a first referential word or a few first words, using simple handshapes or simple sounds.

12 months: one-word stage

Vocabulary development begins to gradually increase from the first birthday.

Language development: 12-24 months

Below highlights the milestones of a language development in sign language (American Sign Language) from 12 to 24 months old.

12-18 months: one-word stage

Referential one-word utterances begin to gradually expand at this stage. These one-words are not conventional adult words but babies can convey them consistently to express meaning.

For example in English speech, the baby says "mu" every time she/he is offered a bottle of milk. Or, the baby utters "open handshape tapping on torso" to express for a bath.

Like English-speaking people, ASL-speaking adults use regular ASL words with babies. They don't adapt nor simplify these ASL words.

Infants will adapt some difficult handshapes themselves. For examples, they may use an index finger instead of the "J" handshape for "juice". As they develop physically, they would evolve their handshapes to regular handshapes of the ASL words. Parents should continue to "pronounce" ASL words properly.

Despite baby's limited expression, a study at the University of California, San Diego, shows that babies can understand what adults are saying.

18-24 months: two-word utterances

At this two-word stage, toddlers are able to utter words more identifiable as adult words.

The toddler can express over 50-200 words and make two-word combinations (e.g. "Where ball?", "More pull", "daddy car", "where dog", "water on").

For example in this video, the toddler "Juli" produced fire hot and yummy burger.

17-24 months: personal pronouns

Linguistic pointing (apart from gestural pointing) for the first person ("me") emerges at 17-20 months.

The pronoun "you" in ASL emarges at 22-24 months. And, the third-party pointing (she/he) at 24 months.

Like hearing toddlers at the same stage, reversal errors in pronouns do appear in toddlers who are native in ASL or other signed languages. Despite the nature of iconicity in pronominal pointing, language is amodal

20-36 months: Inflecting words and prepositions

The inflection of verbs and prepositions emerge at the stage of 20-36 months. For example in English, the present progressive (e.g. --ing), prepositions (in, on), and plural.

In ASL, for example: inflecting verbs (GIVE-ME/YOU/HER, GIFT-ME/YOU/HER, etc), classifier verbs (CL3-drive, CL1-person), etc.

Three-word stage (2-3 years)

At this stage, the toddler has a word for almost everything and can utter two or three words long. She/he also uses pronouns (e.g. I, you, he, she, they, me) and prepositions (e.g. on, in).

E.g. "mummy make cake", "daddy kiss mummy", etc.

Four-word stage (3-4 years)

From about 34 months, the preschooler can combine between four to six words in any one utterance.

There is greater use of contrast between prepositions such as "in", "on", and "under", and adjectives such as big and little. E.g. "mummy on little bike", "mummy playing with the big spoon".

They can talk about what have happened away from home. Most of the time, other people can understand what the child is saying.

In speech and signlan, a child speaks clearly and fluently.

Complex utterance stage (4-5 years)

At this stage, the child can produce longer and detailed utterances of over six words in length. She/he can speak/sign clearly and fluently.

The concept of past and future time develops.

Related posts

Also see phonological acquisition with handshapes phonological acquisition in ASL.

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.