Posted by: Indonesian Children | December 12, 2009

GESTURE AND LANGUAGE IN CHILDREN

GESTURE AND LANGUAGE IN CHILDREN

 

Widodo Judarwanto

The average 10-month-old child does not yet produce intelligible speech but does communicate – through gesture (Bates, 1976; Bates, Benigni, Bretherton, Camaioni & Volterrra, 1979). Moreover, early gesture use is linked to later word learning – the more a child gestures early on, the larger the child’s vocabulary later in development (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1988; Rowe, Özçaliskan & Goldin-Meadow, 2006). In fact, we can predict which lexical items will enter a child’s verbal vocabulary by looking at the objects that child indicated in gesture several months earlier (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005).

Gesture use continues to precede, and to predict, children’s language development as they enter the two-word stage. Children who cannot yet combine two words within a single utterance can nevertheless express a two-word idea using gesture and speech together (e.g. point at cup+‘mommy’, referring to mommy’s cup; Butcher & Goldin-Meadow, 2000; Capirci, Iverson, Pizzuto & Volterra, 1996; Greenfield & Smith, 1976). Interestingly, the age at which children first produce this type of gesture+speech combination reliably predicts the age at which they first produce two-word utterances (Goldin-Meadow & Butcher, 2003; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005; Iverson, Capirci, Volterra & Goldin-Meadow, 2008).

Gesture thus forecasts the earliest stages of language learning. But why? Early gesture use might be an early index of global communicative skill. For example, children who convey a large number of different meanings in their early gestures might be generally verbally facile. If so, not only should these children have large vocabularies later in development, but their sentences ought to be relatively complex as well. Alternatively, particular types of early gesture use could be specifically related to particular aspects of later spoken language use. For example, a child who conveys a large number of different meanings via gesture early in development might be expected to have a relatively large vocabulary several years later, but the child might not necessarily produce complex sentences. In contrast, a child who frequently combines gesture and speech to create sentence-like meanings (e.g. point at hat+‘dada’ = ‘that’s dada’s hat’) early in development might be expected to produce relatively complex spoken sentences several years later, but not necessarily to have a large vocabulary.

Our goal in this study was to test gesture’s ability to selectively predict later language learning. We calculated two distinct gesture measures early in development (18 months) and explored how well each measure predicted two different language measures – vocabulary size and sentence complexity – later in development (42 months).

Previous research had shown that gesture predicts later linguistic skills. In particular, pointing gestures predict the nature of a child’s subsequent spoken vocabulary and gesture+speech combinations predict later two-word combinations. But, until our study, the specificity of these predictions had not been explored. Children’s pointing gestures could, after all, also predict their two-word combinations, and their gesture+speech combinations could predict their spoken vocabulary.

The gesture predictions are indeed finely-tuned. Children’s gesture vocabulary (the number of different meanings expressed via gesture) at 18 months is a strong predictor of verbal vocabulary size at 42 months, but their gesture+speech ‘sentences’ (combinations in which gesture conveys one idea and speech another) are not. In contrast, the gesture+speech sentences children produce at 18 months are a strong predictor of verbal sentence complexity at 42 months, but their gesture vocabulary is not. Verbal vocabulary and syntax have been shown to be related abilities in language-learning children (e.g. Marchman & Bates, 1994). However, the two skills are not identical. To the degree that the skills differ during the preschool years, can see those differences in children’s early uses of gesture.

Why does early gesture use selectively predict later spoken vocabulary size and sentence complexity? One possibility is that gesture use reflects two separate abilities (word learning and sentence making) on which later linguistic abilities can be built. Using gesture in specific ways (i.e. to indicate objects in the environment, or to add arguments to a verbal utterance) allows children to express communicative meanings at a time when they are unable to express those meanings in speech. Expressing many different meanings in gesture early in development could be nothing more than an early sign that the child is going to be a good vocabulary learner. Similarly, expressing many gesture+speech combinations early in development could be nothing more than an early sign that the child is going to be a good sentence learner. In other words, the early gestures that children produce could reflect their potential for learning particular aspects of language, but play no role in helping them realize that potential.

Alternatively, the act of expressing vocabulary meanings in gesture could be playing an active role in helping children become better vocabulary learners, just as the act of expressing sentence-like meanings in gesture+speech combinations could be playing an active role in helping children become better sentence learners. This active role could be driven by the child’s interaction with an adult, or by the child’s own gestures (Goldin-Meadow, 2003).

Gesture is often used in episodes of joint attention between a child and adult, and the frequency of those joint attention episodes is positively associated with language outcomes (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986), perhaps because child gesture elicits verbal responses from parents that facilitate language learning (see, for example, Goldin-Meadow, Goodrich, Sauer & Iverson, 2007). Consider a child who does not yet know the word ‘dog’ and refers to the animal by pointing at it. If mother and child are engaged in an episode of joint attention, mother is likely to respond, ‘yes, that’s a dog’, thus supplying the child with just the word he is looking for. Or consider a child who points at her mother while saying the word ‘hat’. Her mother may reply, ‘that’s mommy’s hat’, thus translating the child’s gesture+word combination into a simple sentence. Because they are responses to the child’s gestures and therefore finely-tuned to the child’s current state, maternal responses of this sort could be particularly effective in teaching children how an idea is expressed in the language they are learning. Gesturing thus elicits responses from others that have the potential to facilitate language learning.

Gesture might also play an active role in language learning by giving children opportunities to practice specific constructions before they can be produced in speech. Children who produce many gesture+speech combinations may be practicing conveying sentence-like meanings and, in this way, facilitating their own transition to two-word speech. Indeed, in studies of older children learning how to solve a math problem, children who are told to practice a correct problem-solving strategy in gesture are significantly more likely to learn how to solve the problem than children who are told to practice the same problem-solving strategy in speech (Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2007; see also Broaders, Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2007). Thus, the act of gesturing may itself promote language learning.

Whether or not gesture plays an active role in learning, our results underscore three points about early child gesture: (1) It reflects the child’s potential for later language learning. (2) It predicts later language learning in a finely-tuned fashion – gesture vocabulary predicts later verbal vocabulary, not sentence complexity; and gesture+speech sentences predict later sentence complexity, not verbal vocabulary. (3) It predicts later language learning over and above early child speech. Early gesture, or its lack, may, in the end, be a more sensitive – and more targeted – indicator of potential language delay than early speech production.

In conclusion, we have found that early child gesture predicts language skills later in development and is not a global index of language-learning skill, but rather reflects specific skills on which later linguistic abilities can be built.

Supported  by

CHILDREN SPEECH CLINIC

Yudhasmara Foundation

Office ; JL Taman Bendungan Asahan 5 Jakarta Indonesia 10210

phone : 62(021) 70081995 – 5703646

email : judarwanto@gmail.com,

http://speechclinic.wordpress.com/

Clinic and Editor in Chief :

Dr WIDODO JUDARWANTO

email : judarwanto@gmail.com

curriculum vitae

 

 

Copyright © 2009, Children Speech Clinic  Information Education Network. All rights reserved

The average 10-month-old child does not yet produce intelligible speech but does communicate – through gesture (Bates, 1976; Bates, Benigni, Bretherton, Camaioni & Volterrra, 1979). Moreover, early gesture use is linked to later word learning – the more a child gestures early on, the larger the child’s vocabulary later in development (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1988; Rowe, Özçaliskan & Goldin-Meadow, 2006). In fact, we can predict which lexical items will enter a child’s verbal vocabulary by looking at the objects that child indicated in gesture several months earlier (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005).

Gesture use continues to precede, and to predict, children’s language development as they enter the two-word stage. Children who cannot yet combine two words within a single utterance can nevertheless express a two-word idea using gesture and speech together (e.g. point at cup+‘mommy’, referring to mommy’s cup; Butcher & Goldin-Meadow, 2000; Capirci, Iverson, Pizzuto & Volterra, 1996; Greenfield & Smith, 1976). Interestingly, the age at which children first produce this type of gesture+speech combination reliably predicts the age at which they first produce two-word utterances (Goldin-Meadow & Butcher, 2003; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005; Iverson, Capirci, Volterra & Goldin-Meadow, 2008).

Gesture thus forecasts the earliest stages of language learning. But why? Early gesture use might be an early index of global communicative skill. For example, children who convey a large number of different meanings in their early gestures might be generally verbally facile. If so, not only should these children have large vocabularies later in development, but their sentences ought to be relatively complex as well. Alternatively, particular types of early gesture use could be specifically related to particular aspects of later spoken language use. For example, a child who conveys a large number of different meanings via gesture early in development might be expected to have a relatively large vocabulary several years later, but the child might not necessarily produce complex sentences. In contrast, a child who frequently combines gesture and speech to create sentence-like meanings (e.g. point at hat+‘dada’ = ‘that’s dada’s hat’) early in development might be expected to produce relatively complex spoken sentences several years later, but not necessarily to have a large vocabulary.

 

Previous research had shown that gesture predicts later linguistic skills. In particular, pointing gestures predict the nature of a child’s subsequent spoken vocabulary and gesture+speech combinations predict later two-word combinations. But, until our study, the specificity of these predictions had not been explored. Children’s pointing gestures could, after all, also predict their two-word combinations, and their gesture+speech combinations could predict their spoken vocabulary.

The findings from our study make it clear that the gesture predictions are indeed finely-tuned. Children’s gesture vocabulary (the number of different meanings expressed via gesture) at 18 months is a strong predictor of verbal vocabulary size at 42 months, but their gesture+speech ‘sentences’ (combinations in which gesture conveys one idea and speech another) are not. In contrast, the gesture+speech sentences children produce at 18 months are a strong predictor of verbal sentence complexity at 42 months, but their gesture vocabulary is not. Verbal vocabulary and syntax have been shown to be related abilities in language-learning children (e.g. Marchman & Bates, 1994). However, the two skills are not identical. To the degree that the skills differ during the preschool years, we can see those differences in children’s early uses of gesture.

Why does early gesture use selectively predict later spoken vocabulary size and sentence complexity? One possibility is that gesture use reflects two separate abilities (word learning and sentence making) on which later linguistic abilities can be built. Using gesture in specific ways (i.e. to indicate objects in the environment, or to add arguments to a verbal utterance) allows children to express communicative meanings at a time when they are unable to express those meanings in speech. Expressing many different meanings in gesture early in development could be nothing more than an early sign that the child is going to be a good vocabulary learner. Similarly, expressing many gesture+speech combinations early in development could be nothing more than an early sign that the child is going to be a good sentence learner. In other words, the early gestures that children produce could reflect their potential for learning particular aspects of language, but play no role in helping them realize that potential.

Alternatively, the act of expressing vocabulary meanings in gesture could be playing an active role in helping children become better vocabulary learners, just as the act of expressing sentence-like meanings in gesture+speech combinations could be playing an active role in helping children become better sentence learners. This active role could be driven by the child’s interaction with an adult, or by the child’s own gestures (Goldin-Meadow, 2003).

Gesture is often used in episodes of joint attention between a child and adult, and the frequency of those joint attention episodes is positively associated with language outcomes (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986), perhaps because child gesture elicits verbal responses from parents that facilitate language learning (see, for example, Goldin-Meadow, Goodrich, Sauer & Iverson, 2007). Consider a child who does not yet know the word ‘dog’ and refers to the animal by pointing at it. If mother and child are engaged in an episode of joint attention, mother is likely to respond, ‘yes, that’s a dog’, thus supplying the child with just the word he is looking for. Or consider a child who points at her mother while saying the word ‘hat’. Her mother may reply, ‘that’s mommy’s hat’, thus translating the child’s gesture+word combination into a simple sentence. Because they are responses to the child’s gestures and therefore finely-tuned to the child’s current state, maternal responses of this sort could be particularly effective in teaching children how an idea is expressed in the language they are learning. Gesturing thus elicits responses from others that have the potential to facilitate language learning.

Gesture might also play an active role in language learning by giving children opportunities to practice specific constructions before they can be produced in speech. Children who produce many gesture+speech combinations may be practicing conveying sentence-like meanings and, in this way, facilitating their own transition to two-word speech.

 

Older children learning how to solve a math problem, children who are told to practice a correct problem-solving strategy in gesture are significantly more likely to learn how to solve the problem than children who are told to practice the same problem-solving strategy in speech (Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2007; see also Broaders, Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2007). Thus, the act of gesturing may itself promote language learning.

Whether or not gesture plays an active role in learning, our results underscore three points about early child gesture: (1) It reflects the child’s potential for later language learning. (2) It predicts later language learning in a finely-tuned fashion – gesture vocabulary predicts later verbal vocabulary, not sentence complexity; and gesture+speech sentences predict later sentence complexity, not verbal vocabulary. (3) It predicts later language learning over and above early child speech. Early gesture, or its lack, may, in the end, be a more sensitive – and more targeted – indicator of potential language delay than early speech production.

 

Early child gesture predicts language skills later in development and is not a global index of language-learning skill, but rather reflects specific skills on which later linguistic abilities can be built.

 

 

References

  • Acredolo LP, Goodwyn SW. Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development. 1988;59:450–466.
  • Goldin-Meadow S. Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2003.
  • Goldin-Meadow S, Butcher C. Pointing toward two-word speech in young children. In: Kita S, editor. Pointing: Where language, culture, and cognition meet. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 2003. pp. 85–107.
  • Goldin-Meadow S, Goodrich W, Sauer E, Iverson J. Young children use their hands to tell their mothers what to say. Developmental Science. 2007;10:778–785.
  • Greenfield PM, Smith JH. The structure of communication in early language development. New York: Academic Press; 1976.
  • Iverson JM, Capirci O, Volterra V, Goldin-Meadow S. Learning to talk in a gesture-rich world: early communication in Italian vs. American children. First Language. 2008;28:164–181.
  • Iverson JM, Goldin-Meadow S. Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science. 2005;16:368–371.
  • Marchman VA, Bates E. Continuity in lexical and morphological development: a test of the critical mass hypothesis. Journal of Child Language. 1994;21:339–366.
  • Rowe ML, Özçaliskan S, Goldin-Meadow S. The added value of gesture in predicting vocabulary growth. In: Bamman D, Magnitskaia T, Zaller C, editors. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development; Somerville MA: Cascadilla Press; 2006. pp. 501–512.
  • Capirci O, Iverson JM, Pizzuto E, Volterra V. Communicative gestures during the transition to two-word speech. Journal of Child Language. 1996;23:645–673.
  • Cook S Wagner, Mitchell Z, Goldin-Meadow S. Gesturing makes learning last. Cognition. 2007;106:1047–1058.
  • Dunn LM, Dunn LM. Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. 3rd. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service; 1997.
  • Fenson L, Dale PS, Reznick JS, Bates E, Thal DJ, Pethick SJ. Variability in early communicative development. (59).Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 1994;242(5)
  • Scarborough HS. Index of productive syntax. Applied Psycholinguistics. 1990;11:1–22.
  • Tomasello M, Farrar MJ. Joint attention and early language. Child Development. 1986;57:1454–1463.
  • Bates E. Language and context. Orlando, FL: Academic Press; 1976.
  • Bates E, Benigni L, Bretherton I, Camaioni L, Volterra V. The emergence of symbols: Cognition and communication in infancy. New York: Academic Press; 1979.
  • Broaders SC, Cook SW, Mitchell Z, Goldin-Meadow S. Making children gesture brings out implicit knowledge and leads to learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 2007;136(4):539–550.
  • Butcher C, Goldin-Meadow S. Gesture and the transition from one- to two-word speech: when hand and mouth come together. In: McNeill D, editor. Language and gesture. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2000. pp. 235–258.

 

Supported  by

CHILDREN SPEECH CLINIC

Yudhasmara Foundation

Office ; JL Taman Bendungan Asahan 5 Jakarta Indonesia 10210

phone : 62(021) 70081995 – 5703646

email : judarwanto@gmail.com,

http://speechclinic.wordpress.com/

Clinic and Editor in Chief :

Dr WIDODO JUDARWANTO

email : judarwanto@gmail.com

curriculum vitae

 

 

Copyright © 2009, Children Speech Clinic  Information Education Network. All rights reserved

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