First language

Smile and social interactions in sign language with baby

"Laughter and smiles transcend barriers of age, language and culture, and babies know this better than anyone. They don't speak our language. They don't share our culture; and they are at least a generation younger than us. All the same, we can easily share a laugh." -- Marina Benjamin.

The quote above puts it best. Smile generally emerges at 1-2 months.

In the video above, Juli first smiled at 7 weeks (check source) one early morning before her father left for work. Later in the morning, I wanted to see more smiles. As I signed SMILE, Juli smiled.

First social smiles

In the first morning of this week (week 3), the one month old baby Juli has demonstrated a social smile! A smile! What a milestone!

A few days later, one Sunday morning the father vocally spoke, "good morning" and kissed Juli's hand before leaving for work. The father's heart was melt by her giggle when Juli smiled. Lucky him!

Later that afternoon, I talked with Juli in ASL. "Please smile for me." Behold and lo, she smiled! I frantically took the camera and recorded. I tried again with hope. She did again! I did again for the third time for a better view of camera. She did again! I was thrilled how she "understood" me (whether true or not).

Though, it was not the first time she smiled to me. But, it was just that she responded to me by smiling. When the first time she socially smiled days ago, I was melted away.

Distinguishing ASL words from animal visues

To have fun reading the book "Perfect Pets" by Roger Priddy, I signed an ASL word of each animal and then made a goofy characteristic of the animal.

These animal visues liken to animal sounds in hearing culture where a parent makes an animal sound, such as "woof" for dogs, "moo" for cows, etc.

It's natural that, in our eyeing culture, we supplement animal visues to our language as we are visual people. It's no less different from sound animals used with infants in hearing culture.

This instict is part of parentese that parents naturally and instinctly use with infants found in different cultures, languages, and modalities (signlan and speech) around the world.

Video clip: As Juli listened, I signed an ASL word of the animal. Then, I acted out an animal's distinct characteristics with a funny distinct facial expression as well as using ASL's rich classifiers. Juli laughed hard.

This showed that Juli understood humor in the act-out part which was apart from the linguistic part. It appeared that Juli was able to distinguish language from animals visues (an analog to animal sounds).


Lucky this time that I captured the original moment. Intentionally, I wanted to capture Juli's smile with two pearly little teeth. How?

I exaggeratedly shaked my head with big smile and with a recording camera in my hands, trying to make Juli smile.

Unexpectedly, I found Juli imitating me by shaking her head. She did a few times but after that, she laughed whenever I did.

Video clip: Every time I shook my head, its movement affected the stability of the camera in my hand, thus losing the clarity of Juli's head movement in video.

Making a conversation with strangers

One day 13-month-old Juli quickly toddled out of the library room into the hallway on her own. As soon as I caught up, a library woman stood in the hallway.

As soon as I picked her up, Juli friendly talked with the stranger in ASL -- she pointed and produced drive-car. The woman delightfully responded oh! yes, drive-car.

Another time, I detected Juli signing flower on her nose but I couldn't be sure. But, I did notice this production on the location between her lips and nose.

Sure enough, later that day, Juli first discovered her nose. The first thought I had was whether she would sign flower on her nose instead of the lips. It didn't happen much.

Next day at a bilingual ASL/English center, Juli sat on the bench. "Jane" stopped by to say hello to her, translated as Hello there! How are you? ... What's your name? ... Juli sat there quietly and watched her as Jane talked with her in ASL.

Then suddenly Juli pointed to the right and produced flower (on her lips). Jane looked quizzically for a moment. She turned to look at the flower pot next to the bench. "Ah!" She responded flower with a nod.

That same morning at the play group, "Nyla" commented on the sunflower on Juli's shirt. She pointed to Juli's shirt and commented beautiful flower.

Juli looked for a moment, looked at her shirt, and responded flower (on the lips). Then she walked away multiple-pointing to herself (or on her shirt).

Fast forward, 19-month-old (week 4) Juli comfortably talked in ASL with strangers, some ASL-speaking friends and some English-speaking passers-by.

A friend's partner "Bob" stopped by to drop a book. He also came to say hello to Juli. I expected a complete silence since Juli hadn't met him before.

To my surprise, Juli showed Bob many things what she knew. She reported, insect. As she was about to produce the next verb slap!, Bob misinterpreted it as something else (because Juli produced it with a handshape error).

Then Juli jumped multiple and uttered jumping. Next she signed ball throw-up+++ and few other things.

A few days later, Juli made a conversation with another guest "Angela" while watching the film "Babies". She told Angela what was on the screen, ix-loc baby crying. (The baby's crying.) And a few other things.

Greeting with the ASL word "hello"

Then, 21-month-old toddler was eager to meet new people. She greeted them with the ASL sign "hello" or "hi". Although, often the other kids didn't reply or didn't notice her.

Juli probably wondered why those kids didn't respond. Although, adults did respond better. Juli probably wondered what and how made them respond and some not.

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.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

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.