Date of Award

Fall 2006

Project Type


Program or Major

Communication Sciences and Disorders

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Penelope Webster


The purpose of the present study was to investigate the role of manual communication in the acquisition of the first 50 spoken words in typically-developing children. It was hypothesized that typically-developing children exposed to manual communication would have a different composition of their first 50 words compared to typically-developing children not exposed to manual communication. More specifically a greater portion of dual-functioning words and action words were predicted as a result of the visual and motor aspects of gestures and manual communication.

Twelve participants who were enrolled in a six-week baby-sign playgroup were involved in the study. Parents recorded their child's first 50 words in a diary. The diary was collected and spontaneous first words were analyzed. The first words of the current sample were then compared to Nelson's (1973) landmark study on the basis of six grammatical categories. These grammatical categories included general nominals, specific nominals, action words, modifiers, personal social words, and function words. Statistical analysis revealed a lack of significant differences between each of the sample means in the current study and each of Nelson's means. A qualitative analysis suggested different trends in the first 50 spoken word lexicons for these two groups. Sixty-six percent of the participants were expressive in their functional use of language, learning a more self-oriented and social interactive language with less than 50% general nominals in their vocabularies, compared to 44% of Nelson's (1973) participants. Greater percentages of action words and personal social words were also noted for the study sample.