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Children produce a deictic gesture for a particular object (point at dog) approximately 3 months before they produce the verbal label for that object (“dog”; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005). Gesture thus paves the way for children's early nouns. We ask here whether the same pattern of gesture preceding and predicting speech holds for iconic gestures. In other words, do gestures that depict actions precede and predict early verbs? We observed spontaneous speech and gestures produced by 40 children (22 girls, 18 boys) from age 14 to 34 months. Children produced their first iconic gestures 6 months later than they produced their first verbs. Thus, unlike the onset of deictic gestures, the onset of iconic gestures conveying action meanings followed, rather than preceded, children's first verbs. However, iconic gestures increased in frequency at the same time as verbs did and, at that time, began to convey meanings not yet expressed in speech. Our findings suggest that children can use gesture to expand their repertoire of action meanings, but only after they have begun to acquire the verb system underlying their language.


This article was originally published in the journal Applied Psycholinguistics. Copyright © 2013 Cambridge University Press.

The post-peer-reviewed version is available here with the permission of the author.

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