Baby talk, first language

Eye-tracking and gaze turntaking

Eye-tracking or following objects or people with eyes

Baby at around this time (age 0;1,2 / week 6) turns head and eyes to look toward light source or moving hands. If you move an object slowly across your baby's field of vision, she/he will track it with his eyes. Eye movement will still be a bit jerky.

Now Juli's eyesight tracked my movement. As I moved around or between her and the camera, I noticed that Juli followed my movement with her eyes.

Her attention span also continued to increase gradually. Her gaze had increased a bit longer that I took the opportunity to talk with her in ASL. She seemed to be more aware.

Gaze shifting between picture and ASL word

Full color vision should be fully developed by 14 weeks old (3 months old) or so. Baby's eyes begin to move better as a team at around 3 months of age. She/he also is able to follow moving objects and shift his gaze from one thing to another without moving his head.

Juli looked at the picture where I pointed at and then shifted her gaze at me for the ASL word. And then she gazed back at the next picture and looked at me for the word; one after another.

This was a milestone that I really noticed how Juli shifted her gaze between ASL signed word and picture. A milestone in sign language acquisition.

It appears that Juli realized that finger-pointing is the link between a signed word and its picture, and thus a connection between the object and its name.

Eye tracking 180 degrees

A week later (m4w2), Juli has been increasingly alert -- becoming quite an active observer. She began to scratch regularly on the top of my hand or forearm (whenever I held her) when she attempted to grasp. Manual play (babbling).

Her eye track followed me from one direction to any other direction, perhaps so that she knew or could confirm where I was.

That was what I first noticed when I walked toward the kitchen from her (sitting in the rocker facing the opposite direction) in the family room.

She turned her head and eyes 180 degrees and looked at me while I stood in the kitchen. I never forget the look in her eyes.

As soon as she saw where I was, she turned her head around and relaxed.


Juli (m4w4) enjoyed watching herself and her mother (myself) in the mirror. I brought her close to the surface to let her touch the mirror. She seemed to ponder about this experience of the world on a flat surface.

It had been almost a month since Juli began doing gaze-shifting between an object or picture and a signer. Juli continued to shift gaze between the object and the signer's talk in ASL.

Juli shifted her gaze between the object she held onto and the signer's utterances. She had developed this significant skill of gaze shifting.

Gaze shifting, gaze following, and gaze turn-taking (month 5)

At about four months, baby's color vision matures as well as the other visual abilities such as depth perception and distance. With that, eye-hand coordination is developing more. Then baby pays attention to details at about 5 months.

Gaze shifting between face and fingerspelling hand

Typically native signers fixate their gaze on the signer's face, not hands, in receptive signing. They have larger perceptual span and peripheral vision. However, when it comes to fingerspelling, generally they shift their gaze away from the face.

Similarly, Juli in the video clip shows her gaze shifting between my face and fingerspelling hand.

How much perceptual span do infants in a native signlan environemnt have? How swift can they shift their gaze between the face and one-handed fingerspelling? I hope to see some findings in future research studies.

Not only Juli shifted her gaze toward my hand when fingerspelling, she also looked at my hand when producing manual numeral.

During reading the book "Counting Kisses" by Karen Katz, Juli shifted her gaze toward my hand as I counted the numbers from one to four.

I found it to be one of Juli's favorite stories. Because, it's interactive. Not only Juli watched the numbers I spelled, she also enjoyed the kisses. Think about learning rewards.

Gaze turn-taking game

Four month old baby (m5w3) Juli sat on my lap in front of the closet mirror. She looked at herself and me in the mirror. She smiled at herself and smiled a lot more at her reflected mother than myself.

In addition to the closet mirror, I held a hand mirror in front of Juli. She looked at me in the handheld mirror and I made eye contact with her in the handheld mirror.

Juli then shifted her gaze at me in the closet mirror. Again I looked at her. She gazed back at the handheld mirror and made eye contact with me. We continued doing the gaze turn-taking between the handheld and the closet mirror.

Eye contact and gaze shifting are important skills in sign language development.

Saccadic (eye) movement and peripheral vision

By 6 months, baby would be able to move her/his eyes faster and accurately follow objects. Juli did demonstrate this at 5 months old as described below.

One evening at grandparents' for dinner, Juli observed from the end of the table surrounded by native ASL-speaking extended family members having conversations in ASL.

Suddenly, everyone around the table conversed turn-taking quickly. I noticed something about Juli's darting gaze.

Her eyes quickly and accurately followed turn-taking conversation from one to another. How did Juli know when the next person was turn-taking? There was no object moving from one point to another point. How?

Juli's ability to follow the next person signing quickly tells about her developed sharpness of peripheral vision.

At age 0;6, Juli darted her eyes between face, hand, and the object.


Gaze-following is when baby is interested in looking where you look. If you look out the window at a cat walking by, baby will follow the direction. Sometime between 10 and 11 months old, baby begins to follow grown-ups' gazes, which is one of the achievements in infant development.

Gaze-following is important for language acquisition. A study shows that infants, who follow parents' gaze and listen to what they talk about, develop language. It supports a correlation between gazing and language development.

Like a hearing 9 month old baby may understand a spoken (auditory-vocal) word "no" but sometimes ignores you, that goes the same with visual attention.

Sometimes Juli didnt't pay attention to me or turned away before I completed my ASL sentence with her. Nevertheless, I usually finished my sentence as she might still listen within her peripheral vision. Because, I knew from my own experience.

Sometimes when a family member was still conversing with me, my head turned away when being distracted by Juli or when I was busy or in hurry, but I was still listening within my peripheral vision. Usually I'd nod or reply something to affirm I was still listening.

From observing Juli's interactions with other people in different situations, Juli paid attention well as well as she observed very well. I had no concerns when Juli didn't look at me completely while I talked with her in ASL.

If we read a book together, I'd go ahead talking in ASL as long as it was within Juli's peripheral vision. If she looked at me, I would repeat.

Juli shows a typical healthy eye contact, receptive skill, and observation of a child exposed to signlan environment.

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Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

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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.