Deictic and other gestures in infancy
Keywords:Gestural communication, social cognition, pointing, symbol use
The paper reviews studies on prelinguistic infants' gestures and the evidence for deictic and for symbolic gestural communication before language. First, recent and new studies demonstrate that prelinguistic infants communicate in complex ways with deictic gestures, in particular pointing, and that pointing is closely related to the emergence of language. These ontogenetic findings thus support gestural origins and social-pragmatic accounts of human communication and show that human communication emerges first in deictic gestures and is based on social-cognitive and motivational skills that run much deeper than language alone. Second, however, a review of other, non-deictic gestures suggests that prelinguistic infants use these other gestures initially low-frequently, non-representationally, and with little or no direct relation to language. These findings qualify gestural origins accounts and suggest, based on the cognitive complexities underlying the symbolic use of manual actions, that fully representational gestures instead emerge after, or even because of language, and possibly as co-speech gestures. The review of the evidence both supports and challenges gestural origins accounts of language and provides a differentiated perspective on gestures in the ontogeny -and likewise evolution- of language.
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