Children gesture when speech is slow to come

AbstractHuman conversation is marked by alternation–partners taking turns speaking and listening. Consequently, language production happens under time pressure; speakers who cannot get their message out quickly enough lose their turn. When adults have struggle to retrieve the words they want to say, they can choose alternatives. But children just beginning to learn language may solve this problem with gesture. If young children’s production systems reflect a sensitivity to communicative pressure, they should use deictic gesture to refer when they cannot retrieve a lexical label quickly enough. We confirm this prediction in a longitudinal corpus of naturalistic parent-child interactions, showing that the frequency and recency of a word in children’s input predict the probability that they will refer to its referent with gesture, even for words they know.

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