When gesture-speech combinations do and do not index linguistic change Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 190-217. By Ozcaliskan, S. and Goldin-Meadow, S.

Abstract: At the one-word stage children use gesture to supplement their speech ('eat'-point at cookie), and the onset of such supplementary gesture-speech combinations predicts the onset of two-word speech ('eat cookie'). Gesture does signal a child's readiness to produce two-word constructions. The question we ask here is what happens when the child begins to flesh out these early skeletal two-word constructions with additional arguments. One possibility is that gesture continues to be a forerunner of linguistic change as children flesh out their skeletal constructions by adding arguments. Alternatively, after serving as an opening wedge into language, gesture could cease its role as a forerunner of linguistic change. Our analysts of 40 children - from 14 to 34 months - showed that children relied on gesture to produce the first instance of a variety of constructions. However, once each construction was established in their repertoire, the children did not use gesture to flesh out the construction. Gesture thus acts as a harbinger of linguistic steps only when those steps involve new constructions, not when the steps merely flesh out existing constructions.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. Posted Jan 09, 2011 by Benjamin Trofatter