Communicative intention of infant-directed gestures in three prototypical learning environments

Publié le 27 novembre 2017 Mis à jour le 12 décembre 2017
le 4 décembre 2017

Paul Vogt, University of Tilburg (Tilburg Centre for Cognition and Communication) - Séminaire Axe 4 – CLLE-LTC

Children's social contexts vary widely across different cultures, and these contexts appear to depend on the beliefs or expectations that a cultural community has about the children's reponsibilities within their community. Keller (2012) has proposed three prototypical learning environments, each with a specific type of autonomy that is expected of their children: Western middle class urban communities expect children to develop individual psychological autonomy, non-Western rural communities expect (communal) action autonomy, and non-Western urban communities expect communal psychological autonomy.
I present the results of a study carried out in three prototypical learning environments (the Netherlands, rural and urban Mozambique) in which infants of age 1;1 were observed in their natural habitat during interactions with their daily environment. The study investigates whether the communicative intention of infant-directed gestures used in the three communities reflect the focus of development the three prototypical environments. I will first show that Dutch caregivers appear to be more selective about the gestures they address to their infants: The proportion of gestures that are co-speech gestures is 72% in the Netherlands, 58% in urban Mozambique and only 33% in rural Mozambique.
Concerning the communicative intention of gestures addressed to the infants, Dutch parents tend to use relatively more declarative gestures, such as showing, demonstrations, iconics and conventionals. In Mozambique, more imperative gestures, such as reaches, object-requests, object-taking and attention-drawers, occur. Also, more body-stimulation 'gestures' occur in Mozambique. These differences suggest that the use of gestures, indeed, strongly relates to the responsibilities expected from children in the different prototypical learning environments: more focus on cognitive development in the Netherlands, more on development of motor skills and social knowledge in Mozambique.