In addition to the other post on phonological acquisition in sign language, this is a case study of the phonological acquisition from age 2.
The toddler Juli (age 2;0,1) attempted to form the ILY handshape when waving bye as I was about to leave for work. I caught her forming the "horn" handshape for a moment. A difference between the "ILY" and the "horn" handshapes is the thumb in/out.
An exciting thing has happened that I had been waiting for a long time (without molding her hand). Juli (age 2;0,1) was able to produce either mother or father with the correct handshape, using the thumb!
But, then Juli (age 2;0,2) lapsed into the old phonological handshape for "mother" and "father" out of habit when casually uttering them. But, she formed the correct handshape when consciously uttering them.
Juli (2;0,3) finally transitioned from the handshape "A" to "5" when producing mother or father!
Juli had produced ASL word phonologically correct more and more. E.g. mother, father, firefighter (even with the correct palm orientation), stop, etc.
A week later (2;0,4), Juli had begun using the thumb incorporated in her ASL production. For example, she produced fine perfectly when imitated. Note that, this sign "fine" uses the thumb in its production, that the ASL signs "mother" and "father" require the use of thumb.
Juli (age 2;1) continued to struggle with forming the letter/handshape "F". Whenever she willed to form the letter "F", she ended up forming the handshape "W". She eventually uttered water with the perfect production ("W" handshape).
For a long while, Juli (2;1,3) was able to form the handshape "R" as a standalone, but hadn't incorporated it into any ASL words with the "R" handshape. However, now Juli finally had incorporated it into the ASL words rocket.
Not only she could wiggle her thumb in turtle, but she also began to form the handshape "T". Both required the ability to control the thumb.
Juli still struggled with forming the handshape "F" which usually ended up into the handshape "W".
Even though Juli appeared to count something but the handshapes for the numbers other than one and five are difficult.
Three eggs sat on the countertop. Juli pointed at them and uttered egg three. Though she wasn't able to fully form the handshape "3" but I could see the three fingers together (slightly forward) apart from the other two last fingers (slightly backward).
Juli (2;2,0) produced monkey with the correct location prime. Now I can distinguish monkey from bear; though, there had been no problem distinguising those two in contexts.
Likewise, Juli (age 2;1,1) firmly replied #no when I asked her if she wanted to go on the huge slide at an indoor playground.
Sometimes she produced #no with the correct handshape, at least when not consciously, and sometimes with the whole handshape. This was a transition between the whole handshape and the correct handshape.
Below describes the bilingual toddler Juli's phonological development in sign language for the handshapes R, U, V, and W.
During the week (age 2;1,1), the handshapes "V" and "U" recently emerged in some ASL words, such as cinnamon (ASL neologism by myself), .
Juli had no problem with these handshapes when producing these ASL words, at least subconsciously. But, she struggled with manipulating these handshapes U and V as standalone, consciously.
Later in the coming months, I eventually realized that physical motor skill appeared to develop separately from linguistic motor skill that they process differently in the brain.
Juli had some difficulty with forming the handshape "F", but somehow easily managed the form the handshape "W". When intentionally attempting to form the "F", her hand ended up forming the "W".
To take this opportunity, I introduce her to phonologically produce the water, using this "W" handshape. And she did it successfully, only if I reminded her.
Juli (age 2;1,1) first formed the handshape "R" for bent "V" when producing her signed name Juli. Previous handshape was approximately the whole hand together.
A month later (age 2;2,1), following this signed name (which requires the bent "V" handshape), the handshape "R" in substitute for the handshapes "U" and "V" began to emerge more commonly in some ASL words such as train ("U" handshape), sit ("U"), racoon ("V"), video ("V"), etc.
Hypothetically, the reason for the handshape R in substitute of U and V is that it helped Juli to hold the first two fingers together while closing the last two fingers with more efficient control. Once she mastered it, she probably would be able to form the handshape U and V easier. This was the part of her phonological process.
Interestingly, Juli used the correct handshape "U" or slightly "V" when producing stand and cinnamon. Sometimes subtly "R". It was a transition process.
Juli also used the handshape "W" for "F" as found in cat. When forming "W", she correctly formed the handshape "W" as in water. But, when attempting to form the handshape "F", she ended up forming "W".
Each child's development and phonological process may be different.
A few weeks later (at age 2;2,4), the toddler Juli now successfully formed the handshape "U" in ASL words such as sit and train.Previously, she strategically used the handshape "R" to help hold her first two fingers while closing the last two fingers. Once she phonologically manipulated it well, she then could use the handshape "U" instead of "R".
Then next week, Juli's phonological handshape quickly transitioned from the "R" handshape to the "U" handshape in train, uncle, and sit-down.
Interestingly, the "R" handshape remained the same in Juli's signed name, because the handshape in her signed name is a bent "V", unlike the "U" handshape. In some cases, she used the "U" handshape as a substitute for "V" (e.g. raccoon, snake, and lamb/sheep.
Phonological errors are part of phonological processes in which children learn how to coordinate their articulators to produce a word.
For example, in speech, a toddler may pronounce "car" as "gar", "red" as "ret", "ant" as "at", and so on. That goes the same in sign language.
Each child acquires phonologically in different ways, but follow phonological preocesses in the same natural way. Below is a sample of the child Juli's phonological acquisition.
Last weeks I mentioned that the toddler Juli (2;3,0) used the "W" handshape in replacement of "F" in ASL words/signs cat, fox and such. Likewise, last week she did the same for First Nations.
In addition, Juli also used the "W" handshape for "open 8" handshape as in sick and for the handshape ILY in airplane and ILY.
The ILY handshape is supposed to be one of some difficult handshapes to manipulate and it is one of some phonological primes to acquire some time later.
Juli had been using the handshape "1" in juice for a very long time -- perhaps a year. An interesting recent change was made, in which Juli used the handshape "A" for "juice".
Why the handshape "A"? My thought is that this handshape "A" is the closest to the handshape "J". Sooner or later, her little pinkie would pop up to make a "J".
A week later (2;3,2), Juli was seen to continue using the "A" handshape for "J" when producing juice.
An odd emergence was that Juli transitioned from the correct handshape "1" to the handshape error "U" in cry. Maybe the handshape "U" was the central theme of her acquisition that it affected the other ASL signed words.
A few weeks ago in my post, I mentioned that Juli was about to count up to 5 or more. But, she couldn't produce some ASL numbers because of the difficult handshapes, especially with "2" or "V", "3", "4".
A friend reported that Juli was vocally counting "one, two, three" in another room. I caught Juli trying to count from one to five by skipping the middle three by simply producing one [bounces] five (with the bouncing movement between one and five).
At age 2;4,3, Juli began to phonologically form the handshape "2-bent" as seen in entertainment-fair, sled, and cherry. (see video)
In her phonological process, previously Juli first formed the handshape "R" (in which the crossed fingers helped her control this handshape), then formed the handshape "U" as in train and sit.
Lately the handshape "V" appeared to be mature that Juli comfortably formed it in her ASL words, such as stand.
Now the handshape "bent-V" recently emerged first as in entertainment-fair. Further with curiosity, I asked Juli to produce potato and her signed name Juli and she did. (not on video)
However, Juli didn't form this handshape "V" as a standalone for the ASL cardinal number "two". This handshape "2" can be found in ASL words or signs, not in its standalone handshape.
Conversely, a long while ago, Juli was able to form the handshape "R" as a standalone or for the alphabetical letter "R" but she didn't incorporate it into ASL word rocket, for example, until some time later.
Interestingly, the handshapes P or K (same handshape but different wrist orientation) and T seem to be phonologically related, which were not noticeable before. The handshapes P/K and T appear to be unrelated to most people including myself, until I noticed that these three handshapes emerged within the same window of time. Then, I realized that these handshapes were phonologically related, because the two fingers and thumb are involved.
The handshape "K" or "P" (both same handshape but different orientation) began to emerge as seen in park. The movement in this production also developed to a more circular.
In parallel, the handshape in the production for video had transitioned from a long-time handshape "A" to the emerging correct handshape "V". The movement remained the same. Juli tapped instead of making a circular movement.
A week later (age 2;5,3), the movement when producing video began to form a circular movement. Likewise for the ASL sign park.
Another phonological emergence at age 2;8.1 was the ASL handshape "T". The toddler Juli now could produced a fingerspelled loan #TV clearly. She would ask ix-me want watch #TV and laughed.
Shortly, she was able to form the handshape F. I introduced her to the ASL words that contain the handshape F: cat, fox, and sentence. One day, I caught her practicing this handshape and signed all these three words.
Although, the handshape F hadn't been stable for the next months as Juli still formed the "W" handshape in replacement of F.
Interesting, both the handshapes T and F are somehow phonologically related that both require the skillful control of the thumb and the index finger.
Eventually, Juli signed toilet with the handshape T correctly. Sometimes, she would sign this with the handshape A and I'd remind her.
Last week the toddler Juli responded to high-fives and waving ILY with the handshape W. Forming the handshape ILY is a long phonological process.
Juli produced her three-year-old friend Hayden's signed name perfectly -- two-handed "X" handshape, moving alternativley in front of the face.
Juli wanted to select a specific cartoon ("Super Pets") on the screen but I haven't introduced her the ASL word/sign hamster as shown in the selection list. Once I introduced this signed word for the first time, Juli produced it correctly (with the correct "U" or "H" handshape).
Below describes a phonological development in sign language for the phonologically related handshapes: ILY, I, L, Y, L, and lastly E.
Please note that while every signing child follows similar patterns of phonological development, it may vary from child to child in terms of both progression and pace.
For the past few months (prior to age 2;8,1), the toddler Juli had been waving "ILY" with the handshape "W". The waving ILY stands for "I love you." It is a combination of three handshapes I, L, and Y. It had been one of the most commonly used ASL words since Juli was newborn.
Lately, Juli began to form the handshape "horn" with the thumb closed. Eventually, the thumb began to unfold into the correct handshape ILY within a week or two. This handshape is one of the most difficult handshapes to develop, usually in the late phonological stages.
That time, I was still waiting for the handshapes "L" and "I" to emerge. These handshapes seemed phonologically related to the ILY handshape. But, I might be wrong. Now that Juli could form the ILY handshape well, I began to introduce her to the Y handshape as in ASL "yellow".
First, it emerged in its standalone handshape, ILY. Within the next week, Juli was able to produce camping and airplane with the ILY handshape.
As I had predicted, the handshapes Y and I would be the next emergences as those handshapes appeared to be phonologically related. I introduced Juli to the handshape Y as in yellow and yogurt.
While that, I continued to play a few ASL words with the ILY handshapes with Juli, as in airplane and camping, to keep up with her practice.
By the time Juli was comfortable with forming the ILY handshape especially with her right hand, she began to practice forming the Y handshape, sometimes or often the "horn" handshape.
For the next few weeks, forming the individual handshapes Y, I, and L had been challenging. Whenever she formed the letter I, she ended up forming the combination of I and T. The handshape T helped her form and hold the manual letter I. This was somehow phonologically related to the earlier "horn" handshape for ILY.
As for the manual letter L, she had a difficult time forming it. Likewise, for the letter or handshape "F" as it was phonologically related to L.
About a month later, Juli successfully formed the manual letter Y at ease as in yellow, mainly motivated by her favorite yellow organic lollipop.
Juli (age 2;9,2) had been comfortable forming the ILY handshape. Next, she practiced the handshapes "Y" and "I" (or "J"). Initially, she formed the handshape "Y" okay. Lately, she practiced with the form of "I" or "J" as in Jane (one of her ASL-speaking preschool teachers).
However, as she began to attempt to form the handshape "I" or "J". For "I", Juli often formed a combination of the handshapes "T" and "I". For "Y", she sometimes or often formed the "horn" handshape.
Interesting, these handshapes "ILY", "Y", "I", horn, and T-I were phonologically interrelated. The handshape ILY was the base of all that Juli comfortably formed it, somehow easily.
As for forming the handshape "I", Juli added "T" to it. I could see the reason for it. Like the handshape "R", Juli used it to help her form the handshape U and V later. Because, the form "R" helped her hold two fingers together by crossing it like hooking it to hold them together.
It was what appeared that Juli used the handshape "T" to help her hold the thumb inside for the letter "I" and "J".
Then next month, Juli successfully formed the letter I without the support of T. However, on and off, she used the I-T or J-T during the middle of this transition.
Surprisingly, at that time she produced drawing perfectly with the right "I" handshape.
By age 2;10,2, Juil also formed the handshapes Y, L, and I somehow at ease. In no time, she would form them at ease in signing.
Grandpa K dropped Juli (age 2;9,3) off at my home. Juli kneeled down and searched in her backpack in our backyard. She and I were surprised to find a straw drink that she didn't use it at preschool. Repeated after me, she uttered find drink with the right handshape F for find.
Further, I encouraged Juli to produce cat with the handshape F. Eventually, she was able to form "F" in tea every time I reminded her.
Shortly before and after the Halloween, Juli played ghost sometimes. She signed ghost to ask me to play ghost. I'd remind her to produce it with the handshape F.
In the next few weeks, Juli was able to form the letter F when reminded without helping mold her hand. It was a transition period between the comfortable handshape error of "6" and the correct handshape "F".
Like the manual letter "Y", it took about a month more or less to complete the transition process.
Observing some interesting parallels between Juli's first language acquisiton (L1) and my ASL 101 students' second language acquisition (L2). Some students and Juli sometimes confused the handshape "F" with "6" as well as the handshape "D" with "F".
The day Juli (age 2;10,1) first formed the handshape ILY with ease about two months ago. Since then, she had developed forming the individual handshapes: Y, I, and L.
Since then, the handshape Y had been rudimentary. She often formed a horn handshape instead of the complete "Y". Now she finally could form the handshape Y as in yellow and yogurt.
Quickly following the handshape Y, I thought it was time to focus on the letter I and L. She used the "T" to form the manual letter I -- a combination of the handshapes I and T, in which the handshape T helped her hold or control the handshape I. She accomplished it with the ASL sign line.
One day this week, I put the gloves on her hands. She played with the gloves, playing with the fingers. She showed me the manual letter "L" to my surprise. Now she tried the other hand, proudly forming the letter "L". I told her, wow!
From there on, Juli invented a game, putting her L on my L. I asked her to fingerspell her name Juli. As she reached the letter L, she was distracted. She reached for my handshape L.
At age 2;10,3, the toddler Juli finally formed the handshape E as found in easter, fs-ferret.
Prior to that, she used the handshape error "S" in replacement of "E" as in easter. She quickly transformed it into handshape E with ease.
The marked handshape "E" is not a common phonological use in the language of ASL.
During that time, Juli quickly answered stay with the correct handshape Y. She formed it comfortably that surprised me. She struggled forming it in the last few weeks. As she formed it comfortably, the handshape E began to form.
Juli (age 2;10) signed drawing perfectly with the right handshape I without compounding with the handshape T.
As I observed, I predicted that the next handshapes she might develop were the "3" and "4".
Juli attempted to use the middle finger (open 8) when producing medicine.
Juli (2;10,2) now signed help natively -- naturally and perfectly adult-like. That goes the same for same-as (a variation using two-handed, handshape "1").
Juli (2;11,0) produced the ASL words with the handshape Y comfortably, such as play, stay, and now.
About phonological acqusition in sign language.
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.
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.)
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.