Get by With a Little Help From a Word: Multimodal Input Facilitates 26-Month-Olds' Ability to Map and Generalize Arbitrary Gestural Labels
In the early stages of word learning, children demonstrate considerable flexibility in the type of symbols they will accept as object labels. However, around the 2nd year, as children continue to gain language experience, they become focused on more conventional symbols (e.g., words) as opposed to less conventional symbols (e.g., gestures). During this period of symbolic narrowing, the degree to which children are able to learn other types of labels, such as arbitrary gestures, remains a topic of debate. Thus, the purpose of the current set of experiments was to determine whether a multimodal label (word + gesture) could facilitate 26-month-olds' ability to learn an arbitrary gestural label. We hypothesized that the multimodal label would exploit children's focus on words thereby increasing their willingness to interpret the gestural label. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two experiments. In Experiment 1, 26-month-olds were trained with a multimodal label (word + gesture) and tested on their ability to map and generalize both the arbitrary gesture and the multimodal label to familiar and novel objects. In Experiment 2, 26-month-olds were trained and tested with only the gestural label. The findings revealed that 26-month-olds are able to map and generalize an arbitrary gesture when it is presented multimodally with a word, but not when it is presented in isolation. Furthermore, children's ability to learn the gestural labels was positively related to their reported productive vocabulary, providing additional evidence that children's focus on words actually helped, not hindered, their gesture learning. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
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