Symbolic gesturing in normal infants

Child Dev. 1988 Apr;59(2):450-66.


2 studies are presented that document the spontaneous development by normal infants of nonverbal gestures to symbolically represent objects, needs, states, and qualities. These symbolic gestures are shown to be a typical rather than rare phenomenon of early development and to function in ways similar to early verbal symbols. Indeed, the case is made that these gestures and early words are both representative of common underlying mechanisms, in particular, the recognition that things have names. In the first study, mothers of 38 17-month-old infants were interviewed in regard to their infants' verbal and nonverbal development. The second study, designed to document with greater precision the findings of the interview study, is a longitudinal study of 16 infants who were followed from 11 to 24 months. Both studies provide evidence that symbolic gestures tend to develop in tandem with the child's early words, that girls tend to rely more heavily than boys on such gestures, that structured parent-child interactions are important to the development of these gestures, that the gestures tend to depict the function rather than the form of objects, and that the use of gestural labels is positively related to verbal vocabulary development. Implications of these findings for theories of language development and for speech pathology are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Kinesics*
  • Language Development
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Sex Factors
  • Symbolism*
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Vocabulary