Cross-cultural evidence for multimodal motherese: Asian Indian mothers' adaptive use of synchronous words and gestures

J Exp Child Psychol. 2015 Jan;129:110-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.002. Epub 2014 Oct 4.


In a quasi-experimental study, 24 Asian Indian mothers were asked to teach novel (target) names for two objects and two actions to their children of three different levels of lexical mapping development: prelexical (5-8 months), early lexical (9-17 months), and advanced lexical (20-43 months). Target naming (n=1482) and non-target naming (other, n=2411) were coded for synchronous spoken words and object motion (multimodal motherese) and other naming styles. Indian mothers abundantly used multimodal motherese with target words to highlight novel word-referent relations, paralleling earlier findings from American mothers. They used it with target words more often for prelexical infants than for advanced lexical children and to name target actions later in children's development. Unlike American mothers, Indian mothers also abundantly used multimodal motherese to name target objects later in children's development. Finally, monolingual mothers who spoke a verb-dominant Indian language used multimodal motherese more often than bilingual mothers who also spoke noun-dominant English to their children. The findings suggest that within a dynamic and reciprocal mother-infant communication system, multimodal motherese adapts to unify novel words and referents across cultures. It adapts to children's level of lexical development and to ambient language-specific lexical dominance hierarchies.

Keywords: Cross-cultural maternal communication; Dynamic mother–infant communication system; Language learning; Lexical development; Lexical dominance; Multimodal motherese; Object versus action naming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • India
  • Infant
  • Language Development
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations / ethnology*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology
  • Speech*
  • Vocabulary