The role of gesture in referential communication

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In this chapter, we track the developmental changes of referential communication in gesture over the important time periods of the child’s development and discuss their implications. Of particular interest is the changing role that gesture plays in referential communication as the child develops, and the manner in which it evolves as the child matures linguistically. Knowledge that the child possesses is often expressed first in gesture before it appears in speech. Gesture hence serves as a herald, a window into the knowledge that is possessed by the child but is not expressed verbally. Gestures made by children during these time periods may also serve to elicit environmental input when they are in a state where they are most receptive to it. Gestures hence provide a means for children to have an interactive role in shaping their own learning environment. Overall, gesture provides referential information that is often not revealed in speech. It also precedes and predicts changes in the child’s language development.


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