A Prelinguistic Gestural Universal of Human Communication

Liszkowski, Ulf, Brown, Penny, Callaghan, Tara, Takara, Akira and de Vos, Connie (2012) A Prelinguistic Gestural Universal of Human Communication. Cognitive Science, 36 (4). pp. 1-16. ISSN 0364-0213

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Official URL: http:dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01228.x


Several cognitive accounts of human communication argue for a language-independent, prelinguistic basis of human communication and language. The current study provides evidence for the universality of a prelinguistic gestural basis for human communication. We used a standardized,
semi-natural elicitation procedure in seven very different cultures around the world to test for the existence of preverbal pointing in infants and their caregivers. Results were that by 10–14 months of age, infants and their caregivers pointed in all cultures in the same basic situation with similar frequencies and the same proto-typical morphology of the extended index finger. Infants’ pointing was best predicted by age and caregiver pointing, but not by cultural group. Further analyses revealed a
strong relation between the temporal unfolding of caregivers’ and infants’ pointing events, uncovering
a structure of early prelinguistic gestural conversation. Findings support the existence of a gestural,
language-independent universal of human communication that forms a culturally shared, prelinguistic basis for diversified linguistic communication.

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