Baby talk, first language acquisition

Gestural pointing to things for names

Regardless of a baby exposed to sign language or not, babies begin to point to things at about 9 months. This pointing is gestural, not the same process in the brain as pronouns (e.g. linguistic pointing for pronouns) in sign language.

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.

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).

The emergence of gestural pointing: a case study

At late 0;8, Juli initially handpointed with the whole hand and then, with quick transition, began to finger-point toward certain locations in space where she wanted to go.

Juli was able to direct me or a caretaker where she wanted to go by handpointing toward a specific location, especially a work of art or a photograph on the wall. She handpointed and vocalized at the same time.

In addition to handpointing, Grandma Z described how she followed Juli's direction by observing the baby's body leaning toward a destination. So much freedom for Juli now that not only she could crawl, but also she could handpoint where she wanted to go!

Just in a few days from the emergence of hand-pointing, I noticed Juli began to form an index-finger pointing toward things in the space.

Juli had been pointing at things in the environment for the past weeks. Initially, she pointed to direct me where she wanted to go.

Then something was different. Juli pointed at things for a different reason. It was more about communicating what she saw or thought. With that, I found myself naming things she pointed at.

From there, with the power of finger pointing as a form of communication, pointing no longer functioned solely as a direction. Juli grew more interested in pointing at things and listening for their names.

This naming stage had just begun to emerge.

The emergence of gestural pointing to the pictures for names

A month before, Juli (0;8) first formed an index finger and pointed to direct where she wanted to go. Then she discovered that she could point at things in the environment for names.

Then I noticed the other week that Juli (0;9,2) began to point at the pictures in a book for names. It gave me a new window into her mind what she was seeing!

Whenever Juli pointed to an image in the book, I articualted an ASL word referring to what Juli pointed at.

Another thing was that Juli turned the page one by one by herself. It gave me an insight into how long Juli preferred to "read" each page. I helped separate the hardboard page using my fingernail, but she lifted and turned the page herself.

In the scene in the video where the book was upside down, I suggested Juli to turn the book around and helped her turn it around. In the right format, Juli tapped on her lap and finger-pointed to the image of the dog.

But, she also referred that expression to other furry animals. Eventually, she learned to categorize the furry animals later.

Multiple pointing to things for names

An interesting phenomenon occurred with multi-pointing. I don't know when Juli began multipointing; that is, pointing to more than one image at once before looking at me for naming. But, I began to notice lately.

Early at 12 months, Juli pointed to 1) bicycle and 2) football. I simply dismissed multipointing, thinking that Juli just changed her mind. I uttered football. She pondered for a moment before vaguely pointing to the bicycle.

Then Juli pointed to the image of a basketball. I uttered it. This whole scene happened to be captured on video.

Two days later, Juli opened the same book and multipointed to 1) basketball, 2) football, and 3) bicycle. Her pointing was a clear intention for each of these items. I intuitively uttered all of them respectively.

Juli thought for a moment and pointed to the bicycle again. I thought she was double checking because this item was fairly new, while the other two had been somehow familiar to her.

This whole scene was captured on video and I didn't recall the previous event until I edited those videos and discovered this interesting link.

Likewise, Juli often opened another book, looked for the specific adjacent images or pages of the goose and the kitten, and pointed to the kitten and/or the goose.

One morning Juli pointed at both images of the kitten and the goose and looked at me. I simply uttered both at once.

With the similar incidents in two separate books, Juli seemed to explore the concept of multiple pointing and watched what happened.

Combining gestural pointing with ASL signed words

Pointing-and-naming was all the rage this week (m11w4). Juli grew more interested in pointing and naming.

With the use of pointing, Juli grew having a sense of the privilege of having a choice. She picked the food over the other on the table by pointing.

Juli pointed to some images in books, seemingly random. Each time she pointed to an image in the book and turned her attention to me. I articulated an ASL word for each. She continued on -- turning the page, pointing, and looking at me (listening) for me to articulate an ASL word.

In the video clip below, I showed her the tiny cats in the Goodnight Moon and uttered ASL word cat. It was one of many pointing-and-naming activities. And, I immediately forgot about it.

Then every morning, daytime and night, whenever she opened the book Goodnight Moon, Juli took a special notice of same tiny cats in different pages. Juli pointed to them and I uttered cat. Again in other pages. I wondered why.

When I edited this video clip and realized what I did -- I taught her the day or so before. Juli remembered and probably checked for consistent information. It reminds me of the concept of "object permanence" and I called it the concept of "word permanence."

Word Permanence:

Next day and day (m11w1), Juli pointed to the new images randomly -- unfamilar images in the picture book and looked to me. I uttered words in ASL. Why unfamiliar images? Just to see if everything has a name?

Beside that, she also pointed to the same images that she had pointed in previous days. Did she check for consistency?

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."

A study case

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.

(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.

Juli (at 11;4) just began to combine gestural pointing with a signed word.

In the 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.

Pointing and "that-one"

(m12w5) In the near past, Juli pointed with an index finger to indicate which object she wanted from her highchair. I would go to the countertop and pointed to an object after another. I tried to teach her to use "yes" or "no" gestures (e.g. nodding or shaking head). Juli seemed to have learned how to develop her own language to indicate "yes" -- in another word, "that-one!".

Now I can observe clearly when Juli (11;4) uses finger-pointing and a "that-one" handshape. I'd point to an object among other objects on the countertop and then point to another object after another object until Juli changes her handshape to the 5-handshape or open hand with intonation (wider eyes, more reaching hand, etc).

In another word, it suggests a "that's the one!" gesture, not yet using an ASL word "THAT".

Naming pictures or objects

The 12 months old (week 3) baby Juli became more acrobatic around. On the go, go, go. Juli had been a bigger questioner. She pointed to each image and looked at me for noun names. I decided that it was time to ask her questions.

In a picture book, I pointed to an image of the apple and asked ix what? -- translated as What is this? Juli responded apple.

Before I was about to ask the next, Juli already uttered banana. I replied yes, right!.

Later that day in her bedroom, I pointed to an image of the strawberry and asked what it was. Juli immediately replied strawberry which was the same production as shown in the last week's video.

Asking Juli questions gave me a clear glimpse into her ASL productions. For example, I curiously pointed to an image of the shoes in a picture book. Juli responded shoes (using an "S" or "A" handshape with the incorrect palm orientation).

Juli used to produce "shoes" with the open handshape which was more ambiguous with other possible meanings (e.g. more). Now Juli was able to form the "A" or "S" handshape which was an one step easier to recognize.

Naming referential ASL words in new contexts

About a month later (age 1;2,3), referring to things and naming them in new contexts had grown. The toddler Juli pointed to an object in a new context and identified it by naming it herself. This also showed me how she categorized or perceived things in the world.

For example, outside a familiar building, Juli pointed to the bushes in this new context and produced flower (location below nose, that is on the lips). Though, there were no flowers in this winter season.

Similarly, she pointed to the green plant at Grandma Z's home and uttered flower. She appeared to overgeneralize these green living things.

Juli walked into an empty preschool classroom and took a look around. As I was about to pull her out, a teacher said it was okay for her to wander around.

In this new context, Juli pointed to three relatively large stuffed animals which were not really easy to distinguish from one another and produced bear.

On way back home, flurries began to get heavier. Sitting in the forward-facing seat, Juli pointed and produced snow (production similar to "rain" in ASL).

Juli found a photograph catalog of Russel Wong's work in my storage. The front cover of the catalog showed a black and white photograph of Jackie Chan. Juli brought it and showed me. She pointed to it and produced father (20-handshape) twice or trice.

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