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The development of iconicity in children’s co-speech gesture and homesign

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Abstract

Gesture can illustrate objects and events in the world by iconically reproducing elements of those objects and events. Children do not begin to express ideas iconically, however, until after they have begun to use conventional forms. In this paper, we investigate how children’s use of iconic resources in gesture relates to the developing structure of their communicative systems. Using longitudinal video corpora, we compare the emergence of manual iconicity in hearing children who are learning a spoken language (co-speech gesture) to the emergence of manual iconicity in a deaf child who is creating a manual system of communication (homesign). We focus on one particular element of iconic gesture – the shape of the hand (handshape). We ask how handshape is used as an iconic resource in 1–5-year-olds, and how it relates to the semantic content of children’s communicative acts. We find that patterns of handshape development are broadly similar between co-speech gesture and homesign, suggesting that the building blocks underlying children's ability to iconically map manual forms to meaning are shared across different communicative systems: those where gesture is produced alongside speech, and those where gesture is the primary mode of communication.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 02 October 2017

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