Prosodic and gestural features distinguish the intention of pointing gestures in child-directed communication

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Previous literature had found that infants rely on the social-contextual information to understand the pragmatic meaning of a pointing gesture. Our study investigates the prosodic and gesture features accompanying a pointing gesture that infants may also use to infer its meaning. Nine caregiver-infant dyads played three games designed to elicit pointing acts with either an expressive, imperative, or informative pragmatic meaning. Results show that in all pragmatic situations caregivers mostly combine pointing gestures with speech to direct the infants attention to an object, and that in child-directed communication specific prosodic (intonation contour, pitch range, and mean syllable duration) and gesture features (hand shape, gesture duration, and the gesture’s lexical affiliate) indicate the pragmatic meaning of a pointing gesture.


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