Early production of pounding gestures by infants predicts oral storytelling abilities


A study published on May 21 in Child development shows that the early production of hand-flapping gestures (i.e. gestures normally associated with emphasis that do not represent the semantic content of speech) by infants between 14 and 58 months in natural interactions with their caregivers predicted that in their later development, around the age of five, these children would perform better with regard to their oral storytelling skills.

The authors analyzed the predictive value of flapping gestures, compared to flip hand gestures and iconic gestures.

However, the study did not find these same effects when children produced other types of gestures, such as iconic gestures (gestures that visually represent the semantic content of speech, such as moving hands in a ball shape to express “ball”) and hand-turning gestures (gestures made by twisting the wrist, for example to express “I don’t know” with uncertainty by raising the shoulders).

The study is the result of a collaboration between the UPF Prosodic Studies (GrEP) group and the Department of Translation and Language Sciences and the Goldin-Meadow Lab at the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA), research carried out by Ingrid Vilà-Giménez (UPF and UdG) and Pilar Prieto (ICREA, UPF) with researchers Natalie Dowling and Susan Goldin-Meadow (University of Chicago, USA) and Ö. Ece Demir-Lira (University of Iowa).

A longitudinal database on language development was used

Using a longitudinal methodology, the study analyzed data at different points in children’s development. The data belong to a large longitudinal language development database owned by the University of Chicago. The researchers analyzed the speech and production of three types of gestures of 45 children aged 14 to 58 months during their interactions with their caregivers at mealtime or during play sessions or other activities such as reading. books. Specifically, they examined the predictive value of flapping gestures, compared to flipping hand gestures and iconic gestures. At age 5, the same children participated in a storytelling task in which they were asked to tell a story from a cartoon without sound.

The study showed that the beating gestures produced by children aged 14 to 58 months play a very important role in narrative development in later stages.

The results showed that the beating gestures produced by children aged 14 to 58 months play a very important role in narrative development at later stages because they can predict improvements in children’s oral skills a few years later. Although the results of the study do not provide empirical evidence as to whether such a flapping gesture simply reflects that the child has the ability to structure speech or multimodally mark elements of speech associated with speech. prominence of speech (that is, to mark the accent), the researchers argue that this kind of gesture plays a very important pragmatic role in the precocious language of children.

It should be noted that these pragmatic functions of rhythmic gestures are linked to the function of structuring narrative discourse. Therefore, as the study results suggest, the authors point out that it can be argued that the pragmatic functions of beating gestures in children’s early narrative speeches can be very important for the development of their initial speech as well as for the development of their initial speech. developing their oral storytelling skills at an older age.

This study significantly contributes to strengthening previous empirical evidence published by some of the same researchers on the benefits of a short intervention to improve oral skills in children aged 5 and 6, in which they are asked to observe or observe. produce beating gestures (Vilà-Giménez et al., 2019; Vilà-Giménez and Prieto, 2020; see also Vilà-Giménez and Prieto, 2021). Similarly, other complementary studies have also shown the positive impact of these gestures on other more complex language skills of children, such as understanding stories (Llanes-Coromina et al., 2018).


Journal reference:

Vilà-Gimenez, I., et al. (2021) The predictive value of non-referential flapping gestures: early use in parent-child interactions predicts storytelling abilities at age 5. Child development. doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13583.

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