Young children follow pointing over words in interpreting acts of reference.
Adults refer young children's attention to things in two basic ways: through the use of pointing (and other deictic gestures) and words (and other linguistic conventions). In the current studies, we referred young children (2- and 4-year-olds) to things in conflicting ways, that is, by pointing to one object while indicating linguistically (in some way) a different object. In Study 1, a novel word was put into competition with a pointing gesture in a mutual exclusivity paradigm; that is, with a known and a novel object in front of the child, the adult pointed to the known object (e.g. a cup) while simultaneously requesting 'the modi'. In contrast to the findings of Jaswal and Hansen (2006), children followed almost exclusively the pointing gesture. In Study 2, when a known word was put into competition with a pointing gesture - the adult pointed to the novel object but requested 'the car'- children still followed the pointing gesture. In Study 3, the referent of the pointing gesture was doubly contradicted by the lexical information - the adult pointed to a known object (e.g. a cup) but requested 'the car'- in which case children considered pointing and lexical information equally strong. Together, these findings suggest that in disambiguating acts of reference, young children at both 2 and 4 years of age rely most heavily on pragmatic information (e.g. in a pointing gesture), and only secondarily on lexical conventions and principles.
Grassmann, S; Tomasello, M
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