A Longitudinal Investigation of Infant Gesture Use and Parent Speech: Unique and Dynamic Influences on Infant Vocabulary Acquisition
How do infants learn word meanings? Research has established the impact of both parent and child behaviors on vocabulary development, however the processes and mechanisms underlying these relationships are still not fully understood. Much existing literature focuses on direct paths to word learning, demonstrating that parent speech and child gesture use are powerful predictors of later vocabulary. However, an additional body of research indicates that these relationships don’t always replicate, particularly when assessed in different populations, contexts, or developmental periods.
The current study examines the relationships between infant gesture, parent speech, and infant vocabulary over the course of the second year (10-22 months of age). Through the use of detailed coding of dyadic mother-child play interactions and a combination of quantitative and qualitative data analytic methods, the process of communicative development was explored. Findings reveal non-linear patterns of growth in both parent speech content and child gesture use. Analyses of contingency in dyadic interactions reveal that children are active contributors to communicative engagement through their use of gestures, shaping the type of input they receive from parents, which in turn influences child vocabulary acquisition. Recommendations for future studies and the use of nuanced methodologies to assess changes in the dynamic system of dyadic communication are discussed.
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