Chapter 8. Sentences and conversations before speech?
Gestures of preverbal children reveal cognitive and social skills that do not wait for words
The author wishes to acknowledge the children, parents, student caregivers, and staff of the Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of California, Davis for their time and patience with this study. Thanks also to the dedicated and talented research assistants who collected and coded these data. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, grant number 1 F32 HD050040-01. Before first words, children use gestures to communicate and represent concepts. This study investigated two questions: Can infants pair gestures together to create two-gesture sentences? Further, can preverbal children engage in conceptually focused gesturing conversations? I observed 10 infants for 8 months during interactions with caregivers and coded all gesturing behavior. I used longitudinal growth modeling to analyze the developmental trajectories of gesturing sentence and conversation length. Infants formed 2-gesture sentences as early as 9 months and 3-gesture sentences at 1 year. Infants engaged in 4-turn conversations as early as 11 months; maximum gesture conversation length was 16 turns. Infants’ early gesturing frequency and variety predicted later sentence length; however, caregivers’ gesturing sentence length suppressed child’s sentence length.
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