Baby talk, first language acquisition

Sense of self, reflection, and self-pointing

My colleague Sandra and I chatted in ASL. Several long minutes had passed and Juli (age 0;5,5) unusually sat completely still, intensely observing Sandra. Half hour already passed by and Juli remained completely quiet and attentive before Juli finally made a fuss.

Then, I put Juli in her play station and we continued talking. Again, several minutes had passed by, all undisturbed. I continually checked on her every several minutes and Juli remained strangley still, silent, and largely occupied in the opposite direction, unchanged. It was so unusual.

Worriedly, I intuitively followed Juli's gaze toward the reflective dark gray television screen in front of her. The moment our mutual gaze locked in the reflection, she burst into ear-to-ear grin. She had been watching us through the reflection on the televsion screen.

Research suggests that babies pay attention to small details in surroundings. At this stage, vision improves with the ability to detect small details.

Eye-gazing, reflection, and object permanence

The baby Juli (age 0;6,0) had been having fun studying reflections in different contexts in the past months. But, this week was the theme in which she explored eye contact in depth through reflections.

Juli watched me through a reflection on the TV screen in the family room. As I walked out of the family room into the kitchen, my reflection disappeared and Juli turned her gaze toward me.

This suggested something about her awareness of the reflection, the object permanence, and the identified people.

Further with an experiment, I kneeled down behind Juli in front of the television set. We looked at each other through the reflection. Every time I ducked down below the TV set, my reflection disappeared. Juli turned around and looked at me.

A week later in the bathroom, Juli (age 0;6,1) looked at me in the side mirror while I looked at her in the main mirror. That is, we had no eye contact.

Then I shifted my gaze and looked at her in the side mirror and she looked at me in the main mirror. I followed (or "chased") her gaze, alternating between the two mirrors a few times more.

Juli smiled every time I caught her eye contact in the mirror reflection. We shared big smiles and laughs. It was like a "cat and mouse" chase game.

Another time in the hallway, as I alternated my gaze at Juli in person and "her" in the mirror. Juli followed my gaze and maintained eye contact between the mirror and me.

In this activity, I maintained my body still, completely unmoved, while my gaze shifted. This suggested that Juli was able to see small movement well with sensitivity.

Another time, Juli sat in front of the fireplace at my aunt's place. She studied the fireplace screen while aunt, cousin and I chatted. It was a long moment of stillness.

To check what Juli was up to, I turned around and looked at the fireplace screen. Then following Juli's gaze, I looked downward and met her eye contact in the reflective bars below the fireplace. Our eyes locked and Juli grinned ear to ear. We laughed.

mirror reflection, baby self-awareness
Photo: Juli discovered that she could watch me through the flower mirror of the toy.

For the next two weeks (age 0;6,2), Juli continued to watch me through various reflections -- on the fridge surface, television screen, fireplace glass, and so on. Sometimes she watched me waiting patiently till I noticed her. Then she smiled and turned her head towards me.

Videoclip: Juli was engaged by the signing shadow when I signed.

baby talk - visual culture

As I was driving, Juli turned her head around to watch me for a while. It appeared that she recognized the connection of our eye contact in the rear mirrors with her parent actually behind her.

Likewise, Juli (age 0;6,1-2) seated rear-facing in the vehicle and she turned around her head and watched her father driving. There was no rear mirror in the father's car as I had.

Recognizing the difference between reflection and video

Juli's exploring reflections hadn't stopped. During the last week of the month, I was watching a documentary movie on my laptop. Juli was watching with me. But, I then realized she was watching something else.

The video was in full screen but there was black columns at both sides. Juli was looking at me in the reflection on the black surface. She watched a juxtaposition of the video and the real-life reflection.

baby talk - visual culture

Video clip: Kim interacted with Juli, talking about what Juli was exploring. Her gaze shifting appeared to be well developed.

Pointing to self and people

Beginning in the year, Juli (age 1) pointed to herself when identifying herself in a photograph.

Earlier at 12 months (week 4) I noticed that Juli had pointed to herself with an index finger sometimes, especially when reading that specific book with her.

The video clip above (from 12 months old, week 3) shows Juli pointing to herself. I had been pointing to her when reading that book with her several times.

The 13-month-old baby, sitting in her high chair, listened, while I signed ix-me mother love you juli [Mother (me) loves you, Juli]. Juli turned around and pointed to the picture of herself on the refrigerator. Then, she pointed to herself. Did I believe what I saw? She pointed to herself when I pointed to her.

Sure enough, next day or two at the ASL Mother Goose playgroup, an ASL-speaking teacher "Nyla" signed to Juli Mother love you Juli. Father love you Juli. Who juli?. Juli pointed to herself with a grin. She again pointed to herself.

A week later, Grandma pointed to a couple of photographs of Juli and asked who?. Juli pointed to herself. This took place at Grandma's home.

On that same day, Juli later pointed to the same pictures and pointed to herself. It occurred more than a few times. Likewise for the photographs of herself on the fridge at Grandma Z's home.

One day Juli (age 1;2,2) pointed to herself (gestural pointing?) and produced Juli when looking at the photograph of herself on my textphone (cellphone).

Identifying herself (a1m3w1)

A new thing I recognized Juli's production is her own signed name in contexts (age 1;2,0).

In the past posts, I mentioned that when Juli recognized herself in a photograph, she pointed to herself. But, when I signed her name Juli, she usually would turn to gaze and/or point at the photograph of herself on the refrigerator.

Now when she looked at the photograph of herself, she signed her own name (index finger moving down repeatedly from her chin or lower lip). That production is similar to the regular production of "red" in ASL.

At this point, I'm uncertain how or when she pointed to herself in some contexts but produced her signed name in other contexts. Maybe, it's nothing. Maybe there is a specific reason. It's something to look closely in the next days and weeks.

One morning Juli came across a photograph of her father. Her father asked who ix-photograph?. Juli grinned, produced father (20-handshape) and finger-pointed at her father. Father nodded ix-me father.

Pointing at people

At age 1;3, Juli's father turned on TV and booted up a PS3. As soon as the screen revealed a background picture of Juli and her mother myself. Juli excitedly pointed to the screen and pointed to herself, identifying herself in the photograph (background screen).

Then, Juli pointed at the screen and produced mother ("A" handshape). She turned her gaze at me who observed from the kitchen and pointed at me excitedly.

What followed was that she pointed at me and then herself repeating a few times as in "you and me". Throughout this session, she pointed with a straight arm, very clearly pointing.

At this stage, her pointing at people is very clear, unmistaken. But, it is a pre-linguistic gestural pointing, not linguistic pointing (pronouns) because both process differently in the brain. I'm very curious about how it will transition into a linguistic pronoun during the two-word stage of language development. Pronouns emerge at 18-24 months.

Checking out in the mirror

For the past few weeks, Juli (age 1;4) enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror as if she was standing in front of a new friend. Her facial expression and body language showed some kind of a sheepish shyness.

On the last day of the last week, I began to notice when she toddled toward the mirror and stood in front of it. She produced ladybug a few times while looking at herself in the mirror.

Referential-locative pointing

Sitting behind Juli (age 1;5) in front of the mirror, I asked her in front of the mirror, "Where is Mother?" She pointed at me over her shoulder, not at the mirror.

Toddler producing personal name signs

Juli (1;6,0) identified personal names and signed these personal names of a couple of friends that she knew.

Juli's signed name has two syllables and it requires a change of the palm orientation between these two syllables during its production. Its handshape is the bent "V".

Producing this signed name seems difficult for a 18 months old toddler. To my surprise, Juli (1;6,3) did produce her own signed name and it appeared at ease for her. She used the "1" handshape (as in "red") in the first syllable and the "20" handshape (as in "twenty" or "bird") in the second syllable. She did use the twist of the palm orientation. (see video)

Somehow interesting, these handshapes ("1" and "20"), which share the same fingers (index finger and thumb), appear to be different, yet these handshapes appear to be a phonologically related family.

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.