Emerging 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.

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 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.


"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.

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.