A cross-cultural comparison of communicative gestures in human infants during the transition to language

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The entire bodily gestural repertoire of four different infant groups was coded over the age period of 9 to 15 months. Two small samples of English-Canadian and Parisian-French infants were filmed every two weeks at home. A larger sample of Japanese infants was visited for 7 sessions and of Italian-Canadian infants for 4 sessions at 9 months and 15 months and again at 3 years. Language measures were collected for the last two groups. Increases in Comment gestures, particularly pointing, in Object exchange gestures, and in Agency gestures were found across almost all groups. Decreases in Reach-request and in Emotive gestures were also found for most groups. The increasing group of gestures was positively related to vocabulary acquisition, particularly to receptive vocabulary. Reach-request and Protest gestures at 15 months were negative related to different aspects of language at 3 years. The importance of examining the entire nonverbal communicative repertoire across cultures is discussed in terms of assessing the relationship of gestures to language acquisition. Changes in the gestural repertoire appear to be universal across infants of different cultures, at least those examined.


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