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Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"


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Academic Paper


Title: Do parents lead their children by the hand?
Author: Şeyda Özçalişkan
Institution: Georgia State University
Author: Susan Goldin-Meadow
Institution: University of Chicago
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics
Abstract: The types of gesture+speech combinations children produce during the early stages of language development change over time. This change, in turn, predicts the onset of two-word speech and thus might reflect a cognitive transition that the child is undergoing. An alternative, however, is that the change merely reflects changes in the types of gesture+speech combinations that their caregivers produce. To explore this possibility, we videotaped 40 American child–caregiver dyads in their homes for 90 minutes when the children were 1;2, 1;6, and 1;10. Each gesture was classified according to type (deictic, conventional, representational) and the relation it held to speech (reinforcing, disambiguating, supplementary). Children and their caregivers produced the same types of gestures and in approximately the same distribution. However, the children differed from their caregivers in the way they used gesture in relation to speech. Over time, children produced many more 'reinforcing' (bike+point at bike), 'disambiguating' (that one+point at bike), and 'supplementary' combinations (ride+point at bike). In contrast, the frequency and distribution of caregivers' gesture+speech combinations remained constant over time. Thus, the changing relation between gesture and speech observed in the children cannot be traced back to the gestural input the children receive. Rather, it appears to reflect changes in the children's own skills, illustrating once again gesture's ability to shed light on developing cognitive and linguistic processes.

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This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 32, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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