A study published in Child Development shows that the early production of beat gestures with the hand (i.e. gesture normally associated with emphasis that does not represent the semantic content of speech) by infants between 14 and 58 months of age in natural interactions with their carer predict that in their later development, nearly the age of five, these children obtain better results insofar as their oral narrative skills.
The author analyzed the predictive value of beat gestures, compared with a flip gesture of the hands and iconic gesture.
However, the study did not find the same effect when children produced other types of gestures such as iconic gestures ( gestures that visually represent the semantic content of discourse such as moving the hands in the shape of a ball to express “ball”) and hand flip gestures ( gestures made by twisting the wrist, for example, to express “don’t know” with uncertainty while raising the shoulders).
The study is the result of collaboration between the UPF Prosodic studies (GrEP) group and the Development of Translation and Language Science and the Goldin-Meadow Lab at the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA) and other associates.
A longitudinal database on language development was used through a longitudinal methodology, the study analyzed data at different points in the children’s development. The data belongs to a large longitudinal database on language development belonging to the University of Chicago.
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The researchers analyzed speech and the production of three types of gesture of 45 children aged between 14 to 58 months, while interactions with their carer at mealtime or during games sessions or other activities such as reading books specifically, they examined the predictive value of beat gestures compared with flip gestures of the hands and iconic gestures. A five years of age, the same children participated in a narrative talk in which they had to tell a story from a cartoon without sounds.
The result showed that beat gestures produced by children aged 14 to 58 months plays a very important role in narrative development at a later stage and that is because they can predict improvements in children’s oral skills some years later. Although the result of the study does not provide empirical evidence as to whether such beat gestures simply reflect that the child has the ability to structure speech or multimodal mark elements of speech associated with the prominence of speech (I.e. to mark emphasis).
The researchers argue that this kind of gesture plays a very important pragmatic role in children’s early speech. It should be noted that these pragmatic functions of the beat gestures are related to the function of structuring narrative discourse.
Therefore as the study results would suggest, the author highlights that it can be stated that the pragmatic functions of beat gestures in children’s early narrative speeches may be highly important for the development of their initial speech as well as for developing oral narrative skills at a later age.
By: Peace Chigozie.
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