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First Lang. 2008 Jan 1;28(2):164-181.

Learning to talk in a gesture-rich world: Early communication in Italian vs. American children.

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University of Pittsburgh.


Italian children are immersed in a gesture-rich culture. Given the large gesture repertoire of Italian adults, young Italian children might be expected to develop a larger inventory of gestures than American children. If so, do these gestures impact the course of language learning? We examined gesture and speech production in Italian and US children between the onset of first words and the onset of two-word combinations. We found differences in the size of the gesture repertoires produced by the Italian vs. the American children, differences that were inversely related to the size of the children's spoken vocabularies. Despite these differences in gesture vocabulary, in both cultures we found that gesture + speech combinations reliably predicted the onset of two-word combinations, underscoring the robustness of gesture as a harbinger of linguistic development.

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