Baby Sign

“Baby sign” is not a language like American Sign Language (ASL). Unlike sign language, which is a linguistically structured, rule governed language; baby sign is composed of symbolic gestures. Pre-verbal babies are able to communicate with gestures, and because hand gestures are easier than vocal cord control, baby sign is a way to communicate using these gestures. These signs are subjective; from the studies that employ them down to the specific parent using it with their child. One family can use flapping arms for “bird” and another can use a hand gesture. On the other hand, ASL is structured and rule governed. It has specific gestures and hand movements for specific words, and grammar and syntax rules to order them. ASL can be the basis for these signs but is not always. With baby sign, an increase in verbal, not signing development is the ultimate goal. ASL used by deaf children as a primary means of communication is a related, but entirely separate area of study. Children whose parents have exposed them to baby sign as infants have a higher rate of verbal acquisition, social and cognitive function than their non-signing peers. This relates to bilingualism in ASL/English speaking children because studies show that the use of gesture has cognitive benefits, which can be extrapolated to the development of these bilingual kids. Extensive research shows that gestural communication, in addition to verbal communications, corresponds to higher IQ, increased reading skills and increased ability to learn other languages. Also, children who use gestural communication produce their first words earlier, have a bigger vocabulary and are more social.

For children who are bilingual in ASL and spoken English, the use of both gestural and spoken communication skills can have the same effect. It is a natural extension of the baby sign studies that more advanced, linguistic versions of early gestures would have the same benefits. Baby Sign is a good segway from pure ASL or pure spoken English children to bilingual kids. While baby signers are not actually speaking a language with their signs, the neural and developmental benefits apply to both the non linguistic and linguistic versions of gestural communication. This predicts the results found that bilingual children have similar developmental improvements.

Sources Acredolo, L., & Goodwyn, S. (1988). Symbolic Gesturing in Normal Infants. Child Development, 59, 450-66. Acredolo, L., & Goodwyn, S. (1998). Encouraging Symbolic Gestures: A New Perspective on the Relationship between Gesture and Speech . New Directions for Child Development, 79, 61-73. Goldfield, B. (1990). Pointing, Naming, and Talk about Objects: Referential Behaviour in Children and Mothers. First Language, 10, 231-242. Goodwyn, S., Acredolo, L., & Brown, C. (2000). Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development .Journal of Nonverbal Behavior,24(2), 81-103.