Simple handshape

When choosing which signs to use with your baby…the SIMPLER the BETTER!

Why call it “Baby Sign”? …

Simply because babies use it?

Or is the name rooted in the manner in which we use sign with our babies, similar to how we speak “baby talk”?

Speaking to your baby in a high-pitched voice is not only functional, but it’s instinctual. It’s instinctual because it allows us to mimic the sound of the mother’s voice as the baby had heard it within utero, at which time her intonation and pitch were transmitted more faithfully than those specific speech sounds of higher frequency that are not received by the baby through the many layers of tissues, cells and fluids due to attenuation.

Moreover, speaking as such is functional in that it emphasizes specific words and grammatical structures and is often accompanied by affection and attention that are emotionally reinforcing for the baby. This concept is referred to as “motherese”1


Does the concept of motherese carryover to baby sign?  Of course it does!


We sign slowly, clearly and separate signs adequately enough to be understood by our new, little communicators. Although your baby’s signs will get more accurate over time, they won’t reach adult-like articulatory skills, especially before acquiring the spoken word and extinguishing the sign altogether.

Think about the stages of language development – babies begin with vegetative babbling, which is essentially “exercising” their articulators in the back and then front of their oral cavity. They then start to practice making speech sounds by connecting a consonant with a vowel and repeating it at around 6 months of age. This stage is called reduplicative babbling.

Similarly to speech development, infants demonstrate predictable and stable handshapes while signing during the same months of reduplicative babble when they demonstrate predictable and stable consonants2 and before the onset of first words.


When choosing which signs to teach your baby, it’s important to pick the simplest hand-shapes/movements possible. Just like babies develop spoken language at their own pace, step-by-step, they acquire the articulatory skills for signs at variable rates as well3. For this reason, don’t be afraid to get creative and simplify borrowed signs or come up with your own!

For more information, please refer to:

1. Eliot, L. (1999). What’s going on in there?. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
2. Seal, DePaolis, Koegler, Hudson & Pustinovich (2009) and McCune & Vihman (2001) as cited by: Seal, B. (2010). About Baby Signing. The ASHA Leader, 15, online only. doi:10.1044/
3. Meier (1991) and Meier & Newport (1990) as cited by: Seal, B. (2010). About Baby Signing. The ASHA Leader, 15, online only. doi:10.1044/
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