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Symbolic gesturing in language development: A case study



Describes the spontaneous development of symbolic gestures in a normal female infant from 12.5 to 17.5 mo of age. 13 gestures depicting objects, events, and qualities were developed, the majority in the context of structured routines involving adults. 16 additional symbolic gestures were purposefully taught to S by adults. All 29 gestures occurred frequently and were used flexibly to refer to real items and pictures. Combinations of signs with other signs and words were also noted; their initial appearance coincided with the advent of 2-word combinations. Despite the heavy use of symbolic gestures, vocal development was advanced, an indication that gesturing is not necessarily a result or cause of poor vocal skills. Data support H. Werner and B. Kaplan's (1963) contention that sensorimotor behaviors are natural candidates for early labeling. (14 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
... Shortly after in development, children start performing other types of gestures, such as iconic gestures (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1985Bates, 1976;Bates et al., 1979;Iverson et al., 1994). ...
... Gesture researchers have also called this gesture type palm-up (see Cooperrider, Abner, & Goldin-Meadow, 2018). An observational study by Acredolo and Goodwyn (1985) has reported that it is during the second year when children start to The authors stated that children begin to produce beat gestures when they perform sentence-like or more linguistically complex spoken utterances (i.e., increasing MLU development), suggesting a link between the onset of the production of these gestures and the emerging complex linguistic skills in one particular language. ...
... In the control condition (i.e., beat non-encouraging condition), children did not receive any gesture instructions and were just asked to retell the six stories to the experimenter. In the experimental condition (i.e., beat encouraging condition), children were asked to retell the stories while using their hands in the same way the (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1985;Bates, 1976;Bates et al., 1979, among others). However, it is not until approximately 26 months of age that children's use of iconic gestures increases, at the same time that children become more linguistically and cognitively advanced (Özçalışkan, & Goldin-Meadow, 2011). ...
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Co-speech gestures are children’s first path towards communication. Further in development, research has primarily focused on the role of iconic gestures in boosting children’s narrative abilities, while less is known about the effects of non-referential gestures. The main goal of this PhD dissertation is to investigate the scaffolding role of non-referential beat gestures (i.e., rhythmic hand movements that are associated with prosodic prominence in oral discourse) in the development of oral narrative abilities in children. Given the fact that beat gestures act as highlighters of linguistic properties such as rhythm, information focus or discourse structure, we hypothesize that these gestures can help children frame discourse. In order to test this general hypothesis, this thesis includes three empirical studies –each one described in a separate chapter. Study 1 is a longitudinal study which analyzes the speech and gestures produced by 45 14- to 58-month-old children in naturalistic interactions with their caregivers. Results show that the early production of beats, as opposed to the production of iconic gestures and hand flip gestures (i.e., non-referential gestures performed by turning the wrist of the hand), predicts later narrative abilities at 5 years of age. The other two studies (Study 2 and Study 3) use a between-subjects narrative training task with a pretest–posttest design to investigate whether non-referential beat gestures can be key in bolstering narrative discourse performance in a total of 91 5- to 6-year-old children. While the first study examines whether multimodal training in which children observe beat gestures can contribute to improving their narrative performance in terms of narrative structure¬, the second study analyzes whether training which encourages children to produce beat gestures –as opposed to merely observing them– can have the same effects in terms of narrative structure¬ and fluency. The results of both studies demonstrate that children who observed beat gestures during training (Study 2) and children who were encouraged to produce them (Study 3) showed a significant gain in the quality of their posttest narrative performance as opposed to children who were exposed to the control conditions. Altogether, the results of the abovementioned studies show the importance of a less-studied gesture in children’s language development, i.e., beat gesture, and how this type of non-referential gesture has a strong link to children’s narrative development. While results from the Study 1 demonstrate the predictive role of beats in children’s later narrative abilities, results from Studies 2 and 3 reveal the essential role of training with beat gestures for short-term improvement in children’s narrative discourse performance. Moreover, these findings are relevant not only to understand the value of the multimodal integration between gesture and speech in child development, but also have important methodological implications for teachers and speech therapists working on narrative abilities.
... Les gestes produits avec la parole font partie du langage Plusieurs mois avant de pouvoir produire des mots pour faire référence aux personnes, lieux et objets, les enfants entendants produisent des gestes (Acredolo et Goodwyn, 1985 ;1989 ;Bates, 1976 ;Bates et al., 1979). Les jeunes enfants pointent souvent les objets pour lesquels ils n'ont pas encore de mots à leur disposition. ...
... Thus, it was likely that verbal processing of the intended meaning was not very effortful. Moreover, as previously pointed out, once children gain the ability to express a message entirely in speech around the age of 22-34 months, verbal modality takes precedence over gestural modality (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1985;Iverson et al., 1994;Ö zçalışkan & Goldin-Meadow, 2009). Taken together, the convenience of verbal utterances in the gesture elicitation task and the potential precedence of verbal modality may explain the link between articulation performance and bimodal gesture production. ...
Starting as early as 10 months of age, gesturing is present in the communicative repertoire of children, and later, around the age of two, it is integrated with speech, yielding multimodal utterances. However, children's propensity to gesture varies, and the mechanisms underlying these individual differences remain unknown. The present study tests whether gesture production in the presence of speech (bimodal gestures) or in the absence of speech (unimodal gestures) is predicted by working memory and articulation performance associated with verbal processing. Children aged 22–46 months were presented with a gesture elicitation task in which they needed to correct the actions of a puppet using everyday objects in an unconventional way. Working memory was measured by the Imitation Sorting Task (IST) and articulation performance was indexed by the Non-Word Repetition Task (NWR). It was revealed that any increase in working memory capacity was linked to a higher incidence rate of gesturing in toddlers and working memory was differentially associated with the production of unimodal and bimodal gestures. When gestures were produced without speech, they primarily relied on attentional processes as indicated by working memory capacity. Conversely, when gestures were produced with speech, it was the articulation performance supporting speech processing that predicted the number of bimodal gestures. Overall, unimodal and bimodal gestures seem to have different working memory demands.
... A few observational studies have documented that flips conveying ignorance are first used at 15 months of age. For instance, Acredolo and Goodwyn (1985) observed one child from 12 to 17 months and found that she began to use flip gestures (and shoulder shrugs) to signal ignorance at 15 months. Similarly, Bartz (2017) analyzed sixtyfour 14-to 42-month-old children included in a longitudinal study of early language development and found that onefifth of the children produced a flip to signal ignorance at 22 months, and half of the children produced a flip to convey ignorance by 42 months of age (see Harris, Bartz, & Rowe, 2017, for a review of the emergence and prevalence of flip gestures conveying ignorance). ...
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A longitudinal study with 45 children (Hispanic, 13%; non-Hispanic, 87%) investigated whether the early production of non-referential beat and flip gestures, as opposed to referential iconic gestures, in parent-child naturalistic interactions from 14 to 58 months old predicts narrative abilities at age 5. Results revealed that only non-referential beats significantly (p < .01) predicted later narrative productions. The pragmatic functions of the children’s speech that accompany these gestures were also analyzed in a representative sample of 18 parent-child dyads, revealing that beats were typically associated with biased assertions or questions. These findings show that the early use of beats predicts narrative abilities later in development, and suggest that this relation is likely due to the pragmatic–structuring function that beats reflect in early discourse.
... At this early stage, TD children also start producing iconic gestures that allow them to represent information about a referent in speech, such as an object, an action, or a space. Early iconic gestures are used to depict actions or attributes associated with objects, such as raising arms to indicate big size or flapping arms to represent a bird flying (see [36]) [22,23,37,38]. At around two years of age, there is a sharp increase in the number of iconic gestures produced (e.g., [39][40][41]), corresponding with the period in which children also show an increased sensitivity to iconicity in gesture comprehension [42,43]. ...
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Speakers produce both referential gestures, which depict properties of a referent, and non-referential gestures, which lack semantic content. While a large number of studies have demonstrated the cognitive and linguistic benefits of referential gestures as well as their precursor and predictive role in both typically developing (TD) and non-TD children, less is known about non-referential gestures in cognitive and complex linguistic domains, such as narrative development. This paper is a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the research concerned with assessing the effects of non-referential gestures in such domains. A search of the literature turned up 11 studies, collectively involving 898 2- to 8-year-old TD children. Although they yielded contradictory evidence, pointing to the need for further investigations, the results of the six studies–in which experimental tasks and materials were pragmatically based–revealed that non-referential gestures not only enhance information recall and narrative comprehension but also act as predictors and causal mechanisms for narrative performance. This suggests that their bootstrapping role in language development is due to the fact that they have important discourse–pragmatic functions that help frame discourse. These findings should be of particular interest to teachers and future studies could extend their impact to non-TD children.
Technical Report
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Why do people gesture while talking? What is the function of the gestures that accompany speech? Are they informative? One of the first scholars to raise similar questions was American psychologist David McNeill, who stated that gesturing during speech is determined by a common speech and gesture system. According to McNeill (1985), 90% of gestures used by adults are performed exclusively during speech. In addition, gestures are used not only by adults but also children who are yet to acquire language (McNeill, 1992). Studies confirm that the use of gestures is common in all cultures (Feyereisen, de Lannoy, 1991; Iverson, Thelen, 1999), and the main function of it is to convey information to the interlocutor (Kelly et al., 2003; Goldin-Meadow, 2006; Özyürek et al., 2008; Theakston et al., 2014) and reduce the working memory load (Goldin-Meadow et al., 2001; Wagner et al., 2004). Today, most researchers agree that speech and gesture systems are closely related. The latter is confirmed by many empirical studies in experimental psychology, developmental psychology, psychophysiology, linguistics, and cognitive sciences. Speech-accompanying gestures are studied in children (Bates et al., 1989; Alibali et al., 2000; Iverson, Goldin-Meadow, 2005; Theakston, 2014), adults (Langton et al., 1996; Kelly et al., 2003; Chu, Hagoort, 2014), and during child-adult interactions (Iverson, Goldin-Meadow, 1998; Cartmill 2010). Scientists attempt to understand how gestures and speech interact not only in neurotypical but also neurodiverse individuals affected by blindness (Iverson and Goldin-Meadow, 1998), deafness (Goldin-Meadow, 2006), Down syndrome (Iverson 2003), and aphasia (Hanlon, 1990; Pashek, 1997). Although it is agreed that speech and gestures are closely related components of spontaneous communication, there is no consensus on the psychological, biological, and social aspects of their interactions. Also, there is a lack of a unified theoretical approach to the relationship between speech and gesticulation (McNeill, 1985; Feyereisen, 1987; Krauss et al., 1991; Morrel-Samuels, Krauss 1992; Alibali et al. 2000; Theakston et al., 2014). Thus, this study aimed to discuss the impact of speech-gesture interaction on language production and comprehension in neurotypical children and adults. The theoretical discussion is based on the results and conclusions of studies conducted in various fields of psychology.
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Children show sex differences in early speech development, with girls producing a greater number and variety of words at an earlier age than boys (Berglund et al., 2005)—a pattern that also becomes evident in gesture (Butterworth & Morrisetta, 1996). Importantly, parents show variability in how they produce speech when interacting with their singleton sons vs. daughters (i.e., Cherry & Lewis, 1976; Leaper et al., 1998). However, it is unknown whether the variability in speech input extends to different twin dyads or becomes evident in gesture input. In this study, we examined parental gesture and speech input to 35 singleton (19 boys, 16 girls) and 62 twin (10 boy-boy, 9 girl-girl, and 12 girl-boy dyads) Turkish children (age range = 0;10-3;4) in parent- child interactions. We asked whether there is evidence of sex (girls vs. boys) or group (singletons vs. twins) differences in parents’ speech and gesture production, and whether these differences also become evident in different twin dyads (girl-girl, boy-boy, girl-boy). Our results, based on parent-child interactions, largely showed no evidence of sex or dyad-composition difference in either parent speech or gesture, but evidence of a group difference in gesture, with the parents of singletons providing a greater amount, diversity, and complexity of gestures than parents of twins in their interactions. These results suggest that differences in parent input to singletons vs. twins might become evident initially in gesture.
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