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The type of shared activity shapes caregiver and infant communication

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For the beginning language learner, communicative input is not based on linguistic codes alone. This study investigated two extralinguistic factors which are important for infants’ language development: the type of ongoing shared activity and non-verbal, deictic gestures. The natural interactions of 39 caregivers and their 12-month-old infants were recorded in two semi-natural contexts: a free play situation based on action and manipulation of objects, and a situation based on regard of objects, broadly analogous to an exhibit. Results show that the type of shared activity structures both caregivers’ language usage and caregivers’ and infants’ gesture usage. Further, there is a specific pattern with regard to how caregivers integrate speech with particular deictic gesture types. The findings demonstrate a pervasive influence of shared activities on human communication, even before language has emerged. The type of shared activity and caregivers’ systematic integration of specific forms of deictic gestures with language provide infants with a multimodal scaffold for a usage-based acquisition of language.

Keywords: caregiver-infant communication; context; gesture; multimodal; speech-gesture combinations

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010


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