Symbol Grounding
  • ISSN 1572-0373
  • E-ISSN: 1572-0381
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It has long been asserted that the evolutionary path to spoken language was paved by manual–gestural behaviors, a claim that has been revitalized in response to recent research on mirror neurons. Renewed interest in the relationship between manual and vocal behavior draws attention to its development. Here, the pointing and vocalization of 16.5-month-old infants are reported as a function of the context in which they occurred. When infants operated in a referential mode, the frequency of simultaneous vocalization and pointing exceeded the frequency of vocalization-only and pointing-only responses by a wide margin. In a non-communicative context, combinatorial effects persisted, but in weaker form. Manual–vocal signals thus appear to express the operation of an integrated system, arguably adaptive in the young from evolutionary times to the present. It was speculated, based on reported evidence, that manual behavior increases the frequency and complexity of vocal behaviors in modern infants. There may be merit in the claim that manual behavior facilitated the evolution of language because it helped make available, early in development, behaviors that under selection pressures in later ontogenetic stages elaborated into speech.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): bimodal signaling; evolution; gesture; infants; language; pointing; reference
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