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Children's use of gesture in ambiguous pronoun interpretation*


This study explores whether children can use gesture to inform their interpretation of ambiguous pronouns. Specifically, we ask whether four- to eight-year-old English-speaking children are sensitive to information contained in co-referential localizing gestures in video narrations. The data show that the older (7–8 years of age) but not younger (4–5 years) children integrate co-referential gestures into their interpretation of pronouns. This is the same age at which they show sensitivity to order-of-mention, the only other cue available in the stimuli. Interestingly, when children show sensitivity to the gestures, they are quite similar to adults, in that gestures consistent with order-of-mention increase first-mentioned responses as compared to stimuli with no gestures, but only slightly, while gestures inconsistent with order-of-mention have a larger effect on interpretation, decreasing first-mentioned responses and increasing second-mentioned responses.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Carla L. Hudson Kam, 2613 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6T 1Z4. e-mail:
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This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant HD 048572 and by a Standard Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, both to Carla L. Hudson Kam. The authors wish to thank the members of the Language and Learning Lab at the University of California, Berkeley (where this research was conducted) for their advice and comments on this work. We also wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and critiques, which have helped improve the final version of this manuscript.

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Journal of Child Language
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