Baby talk, first language acquisition

Toddler using indicating verbs in sign language

The uses of basic ASL indicating verbs, basic classifier predicates, and referential spaces quickly emerged in Juli's language acquisition.

This parallels to the same developmental milestone in spoken language in which a toddler begins to inflect a verb. Below are some examples.

Lately I noticed that the toddler Juli (age 2;1,3) began to inflect an ASL plain verb into an indicating verb. For example, she produced (father) eat and then produced the inflected verb eat-loc toward the father's picture above the fireplace. She used this spatial reference for an absent referent to indicate "him".

However, the ASL verb to-eat can't be inflected in ASL grammar. But, it's not unusual to find such in toddlers. It appears that toddlers may experiment with the idea of inflecting verbs and learn what works and what not grammatically.

Researchers have reported that children, as young as 2 years old, use uninflected forms of the verb, and spatial inflection appears to be completely mature by the age six. (Emmorey, 2002).

Juli talked about the gift that her Grandma Z gave her. She pointed at something in the cabinet and uttered ix-loc grandmother gift-me. At first she indicated the space with gift (toward away from her), but quickly she corrected it and indicated toward herself ("give me a gift").

During that time, another form of early inflection was that Juli first "inflected" pointing. That is, she twisted or oriented her wrist and/or bent her finger to specific the "bent" direction. Now she was able to point "under" the window which covered another window on the computer screen.

Toddler inflecting ASL verbs

Several months later (2;7,2), toddler Juli has been inflecting the ASL verb gift for the past several weeks, such as gift-me and gift-you.

Lately, she had inflected some more ASL verbs in addition to give, such as: bring-to[ref], sprinkle-on-me (wanting me to sprinkle hose water on her), etc.

Syntactic development

Another time, Juli watched the video clips on my camera. As she came across the video where she and I visited a pet store, Juli begged want rabbit store, want+want+want.

I explained that we already went there that morning and couldn't go again. She again asked please! and she uttered with a classifier predicate ix-me cl-stand there-ref, in which she used the "2" handshape (a classifier for a standing person) and indicated at the camera screen. It seemed that she tried to find another way to tell me that she wanted to be there. She wanted to go there.

Juli came across a photograph of herself which was taken shortly after she was delivered into the world. I told her that I gave birth to her. She pulled up my shirt. She pointed to my stomach and signed born (inflected from my stomach) a few times. Then she specifically pointed to my belly button. It was a very special and cute moment and her signing was beautiful. No video captured, unfortunately.

Juli wanted me to play inside the tent again like I did the other day. She uttered more ix(tent) hide. I understood her request.

One day, Juli had a tantrum that she wanted the honey container. After she calmed down, she articulated POSS-ix, bee make, where she directed the possessive "its" toward the dead bee in the fireplace.

Preschooler using adverbials in sign language

Juli (age 4;3) was first noticed using bound morphology th with "NOT-YET" or "have-not-been" in American Sign Language.



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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.