Chapter 10. Sensitivity of maternal gesture to interlocutor and context

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Child-directed communication may be systematically modified either because (1) it scaffolds language learning (the ‘Facilitative Strategy Hypothesis’) or (2) as a consequence of the semantic simplicity of interactions with children (the ‘Interactional Artefact Hypothesis’). To compare these hypotheses, we compared maternal gestural production in dialogue with adults and children. We also examined the sensitivity of gestural production to children’s concurrent linguistic level. Twenty-nine mothers and their 16–24-month-olds were video-recorded during a free play session, and during picture and word description tasks. In interaction with children, maternal gestural repertoires were limited, typically comprising concrete deictic and representational gestures; abstract emphatic gestures were rare. Maternal gesture and children’s current vocabulary were positively correlated. Thus, maternal gestural modification appears to scaffold word learning, supporting the Facilitative Strategy Hypothesis.


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