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Volume 10 Issue 6 (November 2007), Pages iii-iii, 713-925

Young children use their hands to tell their mothers what to say (pages 778-785)


Children produce their first gestures before their first words, and their first gesture+word sentences before their first word+word sentences. These gestural accomplishments have been found not only to predate linguistic milestones, but also to predict them. Findings of this sort suggest that gesture itself might be playing a role in the language‐learning process. But what role does it play? Children's gestures could elicit from their mothers the kinds of words and sentences that the children need to hear in order to take their next linguistic step. We examined maternal responses to the gestures and speech that 10 children produced during the one‐word period. We found that all 10 mothers ‘translated’ their children's gestures into words, providing timely models for how one‐ and two‐word ideas can be expressed in English. Gesture thus offers a mechanism by which children can point out their thoughts to mothers, who then calibrate their speech to those thoughts, and potentially facilitate language‐learning.

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