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Support or competition?: Dynamic development of the relationship between manual pointing and symbolic gestures from 6 to 18 months of age

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Dynamic Skills Theory (DST) posits that skills within domains may promote or suppress other skills as they first develop, resulting in spurts of growth in one skill concurrently with regression in another. I test this premise by examining development of two preverbal representational skills: manual pointing and symbolic gestures. Pointing is a robust early communicative gesture, indicating infants’ awareness of others’ attention, but limited in ability to represent infants’ conceptual repertoires as they grow beyond the immediate environment. Symbolic gestures are more specific but less flexible representational tools. Both skills predict language, yet no study has addressed the effects of these skills on each other. I observed the gesturing behavior of 10 infants over 8 months in a gesture-rich environment to test the effects of each skill on the other. Supporting DST, results show early pointing predicted earlier, but not more, symbolic gesturing, while symbolic gesturing did suppress pointing frequency.

Keywords: Dynamic Skills Theory; infants; longitudinal; pointing; symbolic gesture

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/gest.10.2-3.03val

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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