Pointing is not just pointing to refer to something. It is significant because it creates a triangle between you, the baby, and the object.
For example, when a baby holds an object, like a rattle, you talk about it to her/him without pointing. The baby would only focus on the rattle he's holding or focus on you. She/he doesn't create a triangle that involves you, him/her, and the rattle.
By the time, the baby can point, she/he can draw you into what she/he is interested in. It creates a triangle.
Deixis (noun), deictic (adjective): Of, relating to, or denoting a word or expression whose meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used, e.g., here, you, me, that one there, or next Friday.
A researcher in a 12-month longitudinal study in Spain videotaped interactions of 1- and 2-year-old (hearing) children with their non-signing mothers in their homes. The findings were as follows:
When those children at between 12 months and 24 months pointed at an object, they also vocalized like "ga."
At about 18 months, pointing is combined with a word such as "doll" or "horse."
At about 21 months, the children pointed along with the deictic words such as "there", "that", "this", and "here."
At around 24 months, the children would combine the object's name plus the deictic word. E.g. "That's a tree."
Pointing is prevalent across ages. A range of the purpose of pointing is from localization (to specify a direction, distance, and location) to early language development (to specify an object to be named).
Pointing and use of deictic in ASL is no different. I will observe Juli's deictic usage in ASL in the next months and years.
(0;11,3) Juli's father, holding her in his arm, pointed to the image and vocally said "That's mama." He redirected her pointing toward me as I stood next to them. He told her, "That is mama."
Next thing Juli responded by pointing at the image. Then she redirected and maintained her pointing finger toward me. It looked like an imitation but it never occurred to me that she imitated.
Combining gestural pointing with a word
Juli (at 11;4) just began to combine gestural pointing with a signed word.
At 1;0,2, Juli's pointing to a named picture began to emerge. When I asked Juli "Where is the apple?", she pointed at the apple in the picture book.
Note that gestural or communicative pointing is not linguistic (e.g. pronouns). Pronominal pointing is linguistic, which may emerge at around 18-20 months or so -- the same stage or milestone as in spoken language. Classical reversal errors which emerge at this stage are crucial indicator; that is how researchers discovered in sign language acquisition in signing children.
Despite that fact that linguistic pointing (e.g. pronouns) in ASL is transparent or iconic for adults, signing toddlers don't acquire pronouns in ASL earlier than speaking toddlers. Linguistic and gestural aspects process different in the brain.
Gestural pointing typically emerges at about 9 months in both hearing and signing children, regardless of modality. Keep it in mind that it's gestural, not linguistic (e.g. pronominal pointing in ASL) which will briefly explain a difference shortly.
Gestural pointing first emerged for direction just before the baby Juli turned 9 months old. Then at 9 months, Juli pointed to pictures, objects, and such for names or words in ASL.
In this last month of her first year, gestural pointing became more developed such as multi-pointing, pointing to persons, and combining gestural pointing with ASL words. Gestural pointing with a spoken word is a typical milestone at around 12 months or first birthday. This milestone is no exception in sign language.
Anne Baker, Bencie Woll. Sign language acquisition. Pp 41-43.
Marianna Hatzopoulou. "The Emergence of Pronominal Pointing in Greek Sign Language." http://access.uoa.gr/gw2011/proceedingsFiles/GW2011_31.pdf
Dan Isaac Slobin. The Cross Linguistic Study of Language Acquisition: Theoretical issues, Volume 2. Pp. 895-896
Dr. Laura Pettito. "On the autonomy of language and gesture: Evidence from the acquisition of personal pronouns in American Sign Language" http://petitto.gallaudet.edu/~petitto/archive/Cognition1987.pdf
Independence is one of natural development in toddlerhood. To blend in this development, I began to give Juli a choice more to avoid possible tantrums.
For examples, Juli insisted to brush by herself non-stop. To stop her brushing, I turned on water and let her clean her toothbrush. I turned off the water and led her to the toothbrush holder with a prayer in mind that she would cooperate. She dropped the toothbrush off in the holder. I praised. Juli smiled with pride in her accomplishment. And, I let her turn off the bathroom light.
To teach her to embrace a bedtime, I let her turn off the light. Before that, I uttered good+night, ILY.
One day this week, as a nap was approaching close, I was waiting for Juli's signal (physical). Surprised, Juli walked toward and pointed to the stroller. Usually, she would object if she were to put in the stroller. Curiously, I put her in the stroller without her objection.
I walked her around while I improvised an ASL lullaby to her till she fell asleep.
Next day Juli pointed to the stroller to let Dude know it was a nap time. Dude, who heard my story the day before, didn't hesitate to put her in the stroller. Sure enough, Juli relaxedly opened her arms so Dude could buckle her up. She fell asleep in a few minutes.
Next day as an afternoon nap at about the same time I didn't wait for Juli to signal. I led her to the stroller and she embraced it. I improvised an ASL lullaby and she fell asleep easily.
Next day, Juli walked toward the stroller and pulled it out. At first I thought she was just pulling and pushing. But, I realized when Juli got frustrated. I asked You want to-nap? I put her in the stroller and shortly she fell asleep.
From there on, Juli was able to tell me when she was ready for a nap and I was able to understand her communication.
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.
".. been teaching my 13 month old hearing daughter to sign since she came into the world. I had no idea children as young as 6 months old could express what they feel and what they want. It has made time spent with my daughter so incredibly gratifying for both of us! She doesn't cry when she wants a drink, she simply asks for it. Books and everyday happenings have tremendous meaning for her because she can "talk" about things she sees and she has control over how many times she hears a word. We've often been caught without a sign for something that she wants to learn about. And your site has filled the bill! It's fun for us to try to find the object or animal she signs to us...she recently insisted that we had a bird in our living room. After a few minutes, we realized it was the angel on the Christmas tree. What a great way to see the world through your baby's eyes! -- Kathryn Doherty, Miami, Florida, USA. December 13, 2000.
My son, who's almost 4 was taught to sign around 1 year of age. He caught on quickly and we did not face the "terrible two's" like many of our friends with kids the same age. I now have a 13 month old daughter whom we're also teaching to sign. It's so incredible that the entire family is able to communicate with her thru signing. I've book marked your site as I've found I need to learn more signs. As a side note, my son, has a much broader vocabulary and speaks more clearly than all the kids in his preschool class. He's even spoken difficult words (i.e. responsibility, stabilizer, vertical, etc.) More parents should use this method of communication!" -- Michelle Bryant, December 19, 2003.
"Thought you would all like to know how wonderfully baby sign works. I started teaching my granddaughter when she was 7 months. She is now 13 months and signs a vocabulary of 22 words. It makes like so much easier than having her whine and cry for the things she wants and cannot ask for. She is teaching the other kids in her daycare class. When she learns to talk we will continue to sign so that she will have a second language. Thanks again." -- Wendy LaRocque, USA
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.