Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Human infant pointing, precursor to language?

From Tomasello's group, work with Malinda Carpenter and Ulf Liszkowski on "A New Look at Infant Pointing" (PDF here).
We propose a new theory of infant pointing involving multiple layers of intentionality and shared intentionality. In the context of this theory, we argue and present evidence for a rich interpretation of prelinguistic communication, that is, one which posits that when 12-month-old infants point for an adult they are in some sense trying to influence her intentional/mental states. Moreover, we also argue and present evidence for a deeply social view in which infant pointing is best understood - on many levels and in many ways - as depending on uniquely human skills and motivations for co-operation and shared intentionality (e.g., joint intentions and attention with others). We conclude with a defense of the claim that children's initial skills of linguistic communication emerge on the heels of their initial pointing gestures because these two forms of interpersonal communication share a common social-cognitive, social-motivational infrastructure.

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