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Tracing the development of spatially modulated gestures in the manual modality in nonsigning Chinese-speaking children


Speakers employ gestures to identify nonpresent objects in nonneutral locations (e.g., pointing to the left to indicate a toy car) and maintain the same spatial locations to indicate the same objects throughout the discourse. These kinds of gestures are referred to as shared-location spatially modulated gestures. Previous research showed that native signers form associations between locations and objects as early as age 5. We examined whether nonsigning children also produced shared-location spatially modulated gestures as early as age 5, and if so, whether such ability is associated with verbal memory, spatial memory, and eductive reasoning (i.e., the ability to derive meaning from the complex situations). Our results showed that nonsigning children use spatial devices in their gestures as early as age 5, but such ability is not well developed until age 7 to 11. It is interesting that different types of cognitive skills may come into play in the production of shared-location spatially modulated gestures across different age groups. We found significant correlations between the production of this type of gesture and spatial memory in the younger children and eductive reasoning in the older children. Thus, there is possibly a developmental shift of the cognitive processes involved in the production of shared-location spatially modulated gestures.

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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Wing-Chee So, Department of Educational Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. E-mail:
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Applied Psycholinguistics
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