First language acquisition

Manual cooing in sign language

Posted 2016

When an adult sticks his/her tongue out at their newborn within 72 hours from birth, the newborn is able to imitate by his/her tongue out. Researcher Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, PhD, discovered this ability in hospital nurseries.

Newborn is born an avid learner and is ready to imitate. However, if you snap your fingers or smack with your lips, maturally the baby couldn't imitate either of these. Her/his brain is not developed with complex motor skills yet.

Eventually the newborn's arm and leg movements lose some of the jerkiness present in the first week and the newborn may figure out how to use these arms.

Starting in the first weeks after childbirth, I also had noticed that Juli had formed her reflexive handshapes from time to time as follows: "i", "m", "n", "t", and "s".

Though, these reflexive handshapes would disappear within the next month later or sooner as movements would begin to become smoother and a little less jerky as the baby's muscles and nervous system continues to develop.

Sounds and visues

Baby begins to make cooing sounds (with increasing goos, gurgles, and grunts) and cooing visues (manual movements) at around month one when they start to respond to parents' voice and/or signing.

Babies make manual coos in response to signing parents. Parents are encouraged to respond to their babies even if these babies just coo. Interaction is important. This marks the beginning of language development.

Baby typically coos a single vowel like "aah"; whereas in sign language, baby coos a single visue like the "5" handshape. The vowel "a" and the prime "5-handshape" are two the simplest phoneme/prime (one of the smallest units of language) in speech and signing respectively.

Juli (at 2nd week) in the video clip above appeared to imitate or at least attempted to imitate manual movements. It was her first recorded manual cooing.

An fluent ASL-speaking mother once uploaded her video on YouTube where she signed milk to her baby within the first weeks from birth. The baby responded with a faint imitation or a form of cooing.

Scientists and linguists including neuroscientist Dr Petitto have known about manual cooing for a long time.

Manual cooing at 4+ weeks

As increasing goos, gurgles, and grunts continued, Juli made "goos" in her signing in parallel. Juli moved her arms in response when I talked with her. I responded to her when she talked through manual cooing.

Sleeping and waking hours had begun to form into a pattern. The one month old baby Juli slept more hours in the nights and stayed awake more in the day times. Juli's eye contact gradually increased. She became more wakeful, where we had more time in interaction. Juli had been exposed to ASL on a daily basis with me, her father, grandparents and relatives.

Videoclips: Great Aunt AG asked whether Juli has received a name sign yet. No, not yet. She talked with Juli, telling her, "You will receive a name sign, not yet now. Wait patiently and mother will observe your traits and find the right name for you."

AG chatted with Juli in ASL. Roughly translated as "See you're signing.. signing. You can sign. Mother will teach you to sign." Juli moved her hands that resembled to "yes". AG was delighted by this coincidence, "Yes, you will be signing. Yes, signing."

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

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Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.