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Do you understand what I want to tell you? Early sensitivity in bilinguals' iconic gesture perception and production

Abstract Previous research has shown differences in monolingual and bilingual communication. We explored whether monolingual and bilingual pre‐schoolers (N = 80) differ in their ability to understand others' iconic gestures (gesture perception) and produce intelligible iconic gestures themselves (gesture production) and how these two abilities are related to differences in parental iconic gesture frequency. In a gesture perception task, the experimenter replaced the last word of every sentence with an iconic gesture. The child was then asked to choose one of four pictures that matched the gesture as well as the sentence. In a gesture production task, children were asked to indicate ‘with their hands’ to a deaf puppet which objects to select. Finally, parental gesture frequency was measured while parents answered three different questions. In the iconic gesture perception task, monolingual and bilingual children did not differ. In contrast, bilinguals produced more intelligible gestures than their monolingual peers. Finally, bilingual children's parents gestured more while they spoke than monolingual children's parents. We suggest that bilinguals' heightened sensitivity to their interaction partner supports their ability to produce intelligible gestures and results in a bilingual advantage in iconic gesture production.

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