Children’s lexical skills and task demands affect gestural behavior in mothers of late-talking children and children with typical language development

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To evaluate the influence of lexical development and task demands on maternal gestural behavior, we observed 17 German-speaking mothers and their children with typically language development (TD) and 9 mothers with their late talkers (LT) aged 22–25 months in task-oriented dialogues. Mothers instructed their children to put two objects together; canonical and — as more difficult tasks — noncanonical spatial relationships were requested. Deictic gestures were dominant in both groups and were used to reinforce speech. However, LT’s mothers gestured more than TD’s mothers and tended to hold their gestures throughout a complete utterance. Regarding the task demands, all mothers gestured more in noncanonical settings and this trend was more pronounced in LT’s mothers. Thus, certain aspects of gestural motherese (frequency and duration of gestures but not redundancy) seem to ‘operate’ on a scale between task difficulty and children’s language skills, suggesting that maternal communicative behavior is fine-tuned to children’s learning process.


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