Many parents get into bad habits and instead of using the correct words for things, use made up words. For example, parents might use “num-nums” or “din-dins” for food or “bah bah” for bottle. Some will also replace certain body parts with less scientific terms. I have a scientific background and my wife is a teacher, thus our bias is toward teaching the real terms over made up terms. The way I see it, at least, teaching a made-up word will require 3 times as much work as teaching the real term, and real terms should shame no one. Take a real life example – My older sister taught my niece about reproduction and was showing us what she had taught. The women had “eggs” she said and the man had “fishes.” I almost lost it! Fishes! I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, because many parents would do this. I explained that one day she would realize that men don’t have “fishes” at all, they, in fact, have sperm! Nothing to be ashamed of. So when my niece does finally realize what has be said to her is wrong, she’ll have to keep in her mind that #1 Men don’t have fish, #2 Men have sperm and #3 Fish are an entire species on their own and have nothing at all to do with human reproduction! Teaching inaccurate terms makes more work for a child!
The same goes with baby sign language. Why not just teach a baby the proper word and the proper sign, just to make life easier? Teach MILK, signed and said, teach EAT, signed and said also. If your baby wants to make up words, go for it, this can be fun too, but you should always remind them what the real word and sign is. Made-up signs can be fun and creative, but shouldn’t be a substitute for the real words. Always keep in mind that sign language is a real language used by many, many people around the world! Because hearing parents and hearing babies are borrowing sign language from the deaf, we should be respectful.
As you teach your child language, keep in mind that you want to expose them first to the real words and signs, then allow them to get creative with their language and experiment. Not only should baby sign language be a fun experience, but it’s also meant to advance your baby’s speech development.
By using incorrect, made up or modified signs you are changing the language of the Deaf Community. In some cases this has caused upset and even outrage among the Deaf Community such as a recent story in the press where a British children’s TV presenter opened the show by signing “I’m happy to see you” incorrectly which was translated into a rude sentence containing swear words.