Baby talk, first language acquisition

Numbers and count in sign language from age 0 to 3

Research shows that kids generally learn numbers at preschool age. But, from my close observations, it seems that toddlers do understand the concept of quantities more than one thought. In my language acquisition documentation in sign language, it gave me the window of watching my baby's cognitive process.

Video clip: Crystal counted Juli's toes as well as her fingers (age 0;6,0). This activity doesn't require face to face.

Introducing numbers (a1m1w4)

It was never hurt to introduce the concept of numbers to infants. It was more about interacting and talking with the child. It was a good time to introduce the concept of numbers earlier.

Introducing a number to Juli occurred when she was 6-12 months old. Counting sneeze and cheerios (or some fruit pieces) are examples what I did. For one thing, sneeze doesn't require a number of more than two or three and it's practical and spontaneous.

Juli (1;0,3) appears to watch a ladybug disappearing or appearing in each page (when flipping backward or forward). She also enjoys the tactile bumps as well as the holes.

Exploring forms and numbers (a1m2w1)

"Five Little Ladybugs" by Melanie Gerth provides some stimulating activity that involves with playing with fingers, counting fingers through the holes, and exploring sensory shapes. One by one ladybug disappears or appears as each page is turned.

Juli happened to have a bib with a large ladybug on it. I pointed it out to her. A reading or two later, she pointed to the ladybug on her bib and to the book.

Juli still takes my hand and directs me to what she wants.

Introducing the shapes (a1m2s2)

Lately Juli has expressed an interest in shapes in the picture book. I also introduced a few alphabetical letters (both written and manual).

Videoclips: Interactions with the toddler teach some colors, numbers, shapes, and objects.

Toddler naming the ASL numbers

Two-word utterances became more commonly used that week. The 23-month-old toddler Juli recgonized some numbers and was able to phonologically produced two numbers 1 and 5 (hint: unmarked handshapes).

Last week Juli first produced two-word utterance number five twice in one sitting. It was distinctly clear.

Her production was phonologically natural and somehow perfect, including the correct palm orientation, movement, and all. This two-word utterance was probably the most natural and adult-like production of all ASL words Juli had acquired to this date.

Juli did produce number five once again this week. I couldn't be sure whether it was a two-word utterance or an ASL compound word number+five.

To avoid confusion between the alphabetical letters and the numbers where there are some similar handshapes (e.g. "V" and "2"), I used the ASL word number with one of the numbers.

That's how Juli used the two parts of words number + five.

The emergence of numeral incorporation

The toddler Juli (age 2;11) had incorporated a number with an ASL pronoun! Numeral incorporation is a morphological process that an ASL number is incorporated with a regular ASL sign, mostly with pronouns and tenses. It's like a "blend" of two words in any language.

Last week, as I was sitting on the loveseat, Juli asked me you play here. Then Juli attempted to pull me off. She made it clear, you play, ix-me play same-as-you-me. Then she surprised me next, two-of-us play. She was introduced to this concept recently and now she used it more than few times last week.

This week, Juli continued to use the ASL pronoun two-of-us. Juli wanted me to join in her bath party, you-us bathe ix-here.

Toddler counting numbers in sign language

Research shows that babies can learn how to count or learn an abstract concept of counting at about 18 months, though not necessarily verbally counting. A number of videos show the toddler Juli making a count before sliding down last year at around 18 months old.

Toddlers begin to count sometime after age two and their skill builds over the next few years.

Toddler counting numbers in ASL

I had been wondering whether the toddler Juli (age 2;1,1) could count from one up to five or beyond. And, occasionally I thought about how to figure out how she could show me her count.

It was a possibility that Juli knew how to count with ease. But, phonologically producing the handshapes "2", "3" and "4" as well as controlling the thumb was difficult for infants and early toddlers at this stage.

However, I figured that vocally speaking the numbers from one to ten in English should be phonologically relatively easier to pronounce than producing numbers in American SIgn Language.

An answer surprised me one morning that week. Juli got up and briefly hanged out on our bed. She pointed to each of the toes of her foot, counting. I watched her mouth very closely.

Juli was counting from one to five! As she pointed to each of the toes, she spoke the numbers in English from one to five. She had been acquiring English as a second language.

Phonologically acquiring most of the numeral handshapes would be a very long process for Juli and toddlers, despite the fact that she could count. For example, the handshapes "7" and "8" are ones of the last handshapes to phonologically acquire, probably down the years.

Toddler counting numbers up to 10

Recently I learned from her father that Juli (age 2;6,3) had learned to count numbers up to ten in spoken English a while ago. Though, Juli skipped the number six.

Because, producing the ASL numeral handshapes is much challenging on the phonological level (handshapes). Juli could count but couldn't form the handshapes: 3, 7, 8, and 9. It would be a very long process to phonologically acquire some these handshapes, especially 7 and 8.

The handshape "4" just emerged now. The handshapes "1", "5", and "10" were too easy for Juli. The handshape 6 was somehow easy as she already formed the handshape for the alphabetical letter "W". But, her brain probably separated two processes for these two different meanings -- the number 6 and the letter W (even though both are the same handshape).

How many do you want?

Whenever Juli (2;6,3) would ask for some chocolate pieces, often I'd ask her how many did she want. She'd reply one or sometimes two (with the vague handshape but I could tell).

Earlier in the past few weeks, she'd ask for a unreasonable request. Five. It was the easiest handshape to form. After all, one was so much little to ask for. What else choices did she have between one and five? At least, she was being reasonable that she didn't ask for ten. :)

Lately, she more often replied one or two. But, she asked for another one and another one.

The other days, Juli pointed to two cherries on the table and uttered two.

The emergence of number incorporation with "3"

At the right time for her third birthday, the handshape "3" emerged. It took three years to phonologically develop the ASL handshape "3" (because of the thumb). When asking her how old she was, she replied three.

At month three (week 2), the numeral incorporation of the plural pronoun "three-of-us" emerged. She signed three-us go basement (referring to her grandmother, herself and me) at Grandma Z's house. She continued to use this plural pronoun from time to time.

Usage of numeral incorporation

Picking up Juli (age 3;4) at her preschool one day, we walked together toward the parking lot. Juli told me, two-of-us go-to food store, #ok (where #ok was pronounced in ASL as #k). Clever foxy girl that she used ok at the end of sentence. With a big smile, I shook my head. Juli bursted into a big smile. She knew she tried her luck but no luck.

Counting up to 20 in sign language

Juli at age 3;6 was introduced to counting up to 20 under my guide. She was able to count on her own up to fifteen, usually skipping 9 and sloppily forming fourteen and fifteen in mixed order. It was not clear whether it was a count itself or the handshape itself.

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Expressing needs and wants

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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.