Seeing as my thesis was written on sign language development and all, I feel as though I have a responsibility to be documenting Emmie’s development (and really, I should be doing an even better job of it than I am).
What follows will likely be jargon to most of you. Feel free to skip ahead to the cute video and ignore all the analysis.
First, Emmie’s sign parameters are developing just as they say in the literature. Location is by far the most accurate, movement next, handshape not at all (noodles the only exception, and that’s only an approximation).Like kids who say “ba” for ball, bottle, binky and bye, she basically really only has a few signs that mean a variety of things:
- WATER/DRINK, FOOD/EAT, and the sign she invented for Soothie all are the same (put hand to mouth; sometimes SOOTHIE is just one finger inside the mouth, sometimes WATER also involves one finger)
- MORE (which she really uses as WANT), BALL, AVOCADO, BOOK, and SHOE are all putting the hands together, sometimes clapping them, sometimes putting one fist into the other open hand, sometimes both hands closed.
- AIRPLANE, FAN and YOGURT are waving her hand in the air sort of by her head. Today she actually twisted her wrist for the first time for FAN, but that was the first time I’ve seen that.
- MILK and WANT are essentially the same thing (reaching a hand out and opening and closing it).
- NOODLES looks a lot like MORE, but involved the right index finger wiggling up and down on the left open hand.
- BABY is relatively new and only means “baby” at this point. She’s been doing this for many months by now, although it never meant “baby” and she only ever does it while in her high chair. I think it mean “happy” at the beginning, but since I sing the Baby Signing Time song every time she does it, she’s now connected the sign with the word “baby.”
- DADA consists of tapping her fist to the side of her head, and at this point it doesn’t seem to mean anything else, although she definitely does sometimes tap the back of her head and appear to be trying to say something other than DADA (we know this because she never signs DADA to Peter when he is there, and she was signing this to him and clearly trying to tell him something he wasn’t getting).
One of the things that has been most fascinating is the fluidity of meanings and productions. In the video below, it looks like AVOCADO and MORE are clearly produced differently (AVOCADO is a clear, staccato clap, while MORE is softer and has a less clear handshape). However, if I had video of more examples of her productions of these signs, these distinctions would blur, I think. The distinct handshape for SOOTHIE with one finger, or NOODLE with one wiggling finger may be very obvious for a day or two, then those signs seem to get assimilated back into the generic EAT or MORE exemplars.
Although not sign, I’ve also seen this somewhat with her production of “mama.” When she started saying this at 9 months, it was just “mamamamamam” without any real word boundaries. Within the past few months, she’s been experimenting with different lengths. Sometimes “mamama,” sometimes “mama,” but it was all over. Now, it’s a very clear “Mama.” I hear it most when she wakes up or wants to be taken out of her crib and almost every time, there at least one very clear “Mama?” with the sweetest little inflection that tells me she is checking to see if I’m there and if I’m coming. She is also now refining “Dada” into more of a 2 syllable word, but you can see in the video she says “Dadada” both times, so clearly it’s still in the works.
In this video, you can see several of these signs. You can also see her understanding several words when I ask her where things are**. I think my favorite moment is when I ask her where “outside” is. She turns to the window and laughs. It was only in watching the video that I think she was laughing because the curtains were shut, and so there was no “outside.” I absolutely adore her developing sense of humor and seeing how surprising things (like closed curtains when mama asks about “outside”) are really funny things.
**As an aside, in keeping with the language-y theme of this post, I’ve done some experiments with her and she clearly understands “where” and “what does it do” questions, but is totally lost when I ask “who.” (I obviously haven’t attempted “when” or “why.”) When I ask here “Where’s ___?” she looks at the object. If I ask her “what do you do with a brush?” she starts brushing her hair and/or teeth (to be sure, this is most likely just because this is what she does with a brush, not because she really understands my question). But if Peter walks in and I say “Who is that?” interestingly, she doesn’t always look at him. Often, she’ll look around, looking confused.