Skip to main content Accessibility help

Referential interactions of Turkish-learning children with their caregivers about non-absent objects: integration of non-verbal devices and prior discourse*

  • BEYZA Ş. ATEŞ (a1) and AYLİN C. KÜNTAY (a1)


This paper examines the way children younger than two use non-verbal devices (i.e., deictic gestures and communicative functional acts) and pay attention to discourse status (i.e., prior mention vs. newness) of referents in interactions with caregivers. Data based on semi-naturalistic interactions with caregivers of four children, at ages 1;00, 1;05, and 1;09, are analyzed. We report that children employ different types of non-verbal devices to supplement their inadequate referential forms before gaining mastery in language. By age 1;09, children show sensitivity to discourse status by using deictic gestures to accompany their non-lexical forms for new referents. A comparison of children's patterns with those in the input they receive reveals that caregivers choose their referential forms in accordance with discourse status information and tend to use different types of non-verbal devices to accompany their lexical and non-lexical referential forms. These results show that non-verbal devices play an important role in early referential discourse.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Beyza Ş. Ateş, İstanbul Kemerburgaz University, School of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, D Building, Room 317, Mahmutbey Mahallesi, Mahmutbey Dilmenler Caddesi, No:26, 34218 Bağcılar, İstanbul-Turkey. tel: +90 0212 6040100 extension:1618; e-mail:


Hide All

This research is the part of the Koç University Longitudinal Language Development Database (KULLDD) developed at the Language and Communication Development Lab at Koç University (Küntay, Koçbaş, & Taşcı, 2015) and funded by TUBA and Eurocores, ESF. The database in the present paper is now part of the ‘ACQDIV Corpus’ (2016, <>). We would like to thank Dilara Koçbaş and Engin Arık for coordinating the corpus project; Vasfiye Geçkin for editing the manuscript; Aslı Özden, Ayça Bilmez, and Ozan Kuru for transcribing our dataset; and Ezgi Aydoğdu for assisting in the coding of our dataset. We also warmly thank the families and their children who took part in the corpus project for their contribution to the development of the corpus data.



Hide All
Allen, S. E. M. (2000). A discourse-pragmatic explanation for argument representation in child Inuktitut. Linguistics 38, 483521.
Allen, S. E. M. & Schröder, H. (2003). Preferred argument structure in early Inuktitut spontaneous speech data. In Du Bois, J. W., Kumpf, L. E. & Ashby, W. J. (eds), Preferred argument structure: grammar as architecture for function [Studies in Discourse and Grammar 14], 301–38. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Allen, S. E. M., Skarabela, B. & Hughes, M. E. (2008). Using corpora to examine discourse effects in syntax. In Behrens, H. (ed.), Trends in corpus research: finding structure in data, 99137. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Ariel, M. (2001). Accessibility theory: an overview. In Sanders, T. J. M, Schilperoord, J. & Spooren, W. (eds), Text representation: linguistic and psycholinguistic aspects, 2987. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Ateş-Şen, B. (2010). The effects of discourse-pragmatic principles on young Turkish toddlers' and their regular caregivers' referential expressions. Unpublished MA thesis, Koç University.
Ateş-Şen, B. & Küntay, A. (2015). The impact of caregiver feedback on children's referential choices. In Serratrice, L. & Shanley, A. (eds), The acquisition of reference, 241–62. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Baldwin, D. A. (1991). Infants’ contribution to the achievement of joint reference. Child Development 62, 874–90.
Behne, T., Carpenter, M. & Tomasello, M. (2005). One-year-olds comprehend the communicative intentions behind gestures in a hiding game. Developmental Science 8, 492–9.
Bloom, P. (1990). Subjectless sentences in child language. Linguistic Inquiry 21, 491504.
Campbell, A. L., Brooks, P. & Tomasello, M. (2000). Factors affecting young children's use of pronouns as referring expressions. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 43, 1337–49.
Capirci, O., Contaldo, A., Caselli, M. C. & Volterra, V. (2005). From action to language through gesture: a longitudinal perspective. Gesture 5, 155–77.
Carpenter, M., Nagell, K. & Tomasello, M. (1998). Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 63 (4, Serial No. 255).
Choi, (2000). Caregiver input in English and Korean: use of nouns and verbs in book-reading and toy-play contexts. Journal of Child Language 27, 6996.
Church, R. B. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1986). The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition 23, 4371.
Clancy, P. M. (1993). Preferred argument structure in Korean acquisition. In Clark, E. V. (ed.), Proceedings of the 25th Annual Child Language Research Forum (pp. 307314). Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.
Demir, Ö. E. & So, W. C. (2006). What's hidden in the hands? How children use gesture to convey arguments in a motion event. In Brugos, A., Clark-Cotton, M. R. & Ha, S. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Boston University Conference on Language Development, 172–83. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Demir, Ö. E., So, W., Özyürek, A. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2012). Turkish- and English-speaking children display sensitivity to perceptual context in the referring expressions they produce in speech and gesture. Language and Cognitive Processes 27, 844–67.
Furman, R., Küntay, A. & Özyürek, A. (2014). Early language-specificity of children's event encoding in speech and gesture: evidence from caused motion in Turkish. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 29, 620–34.
Garber, P., Alibali, M. W. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1998). Knowledge conveyed in gesture is not tied to the hands. Child Development 69, 7584.
Göksun, T., Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. M. (2010). How do preschoolers express cause in gesture and speech? Cognitive Development 25, 5668.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). The two faces of gesture: language and thought. Gesture 5, 239–55.
Goldin-Meadow, S., Alibali, M. W. & Church, R. B. (1993). Transitions in concept acquisition: using the hand to read the mind. Psychological Review 100, 279–97.
Goldin-Meadow, S. & Butcher, C. (2003). Pointing toward two-word speech in young children. In Kita, S. (ed.), Pointing: where language, culture, and cognition meet, 85107. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Greenfield, P. M. & Smith, J. H. (1976). The structure of communication in early language development. New York: Academic Press.
Grinstead, J. (2004). Subjects and interface delay in child Spanish and Catalan. Language 80, 4072.
Guerriero, A. M. S., Oshima-Takane, Y. & Kuriyama, Y. (2006). The development of referential choice in English and Japanese: a discourse-pragmatic perspective. Journal of Child Language 33, 823–57.
Gundel, J. K., Hedberg, N. & Zacharski, R. (1993). Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language 69, 274307.
Gürcanlı, Ö., Nakipoğlu, M. & Özyürek, A. (2007). Shared information and argument omission in Turkish. In Caunt-Nulton, H., Kulatilake, S. & Woo, I. (eds), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 262–73. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Hellwig, B. (2008). ELAN-Linguistic Annotator: Version 3.6. Online: <> (last accessed 1 November 2008).
Hirakawa, M. (1993). Null subjects versus null objects in an early grammar of Japanese. McGill Working Papers in Linguistics 9, 3045.
Huang, C. (2011). Referential choice in Mandarin child language: a discourse-pragmatic perspective. Journal of Pragmatics 43, 2057–80.
Huang, C. (2012). Referential choice and informativeness in mother–child conversation: a focus on the mother. Language Sciences 34, 319–38.
Hughes, M. E. (2011). An analysis of discourse-pragmatic and grammatical constraints on the acquisition and development of referential choice in child English. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
Hughes, M. E. & Allen, S. E. M. (2013). The effect of individual discourse-pragmatic features on referential choice in child English. Journal of Pragmatics 56, 1530.
Hughes, M. E. & Allen, S. E. M. (2014). The incremental effect of discourse-pragmatic sensitivity on referential choice in the acquisition of a first language. Lingua 155, 4361.
Iverson, J. M. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science 16, 368–71.
Küntay, A. C., Koçbaş, D. & Taşçı, S. S. (2015). Koç University Longitudinal Language Development Database on language acquisition of 8 children from 8- to 36-months of age, as a part of the ‘ACQDIV Corpus’, online <>.
Liebal, K., Behne, T., Carpenter, M. & Tomasello, M. (2009). Infants use shared experience to interpret pointing gestures. Developmental Science 12, 264–71.
Liszkowski, U., Brown, P., Callaghan, T., Takada, A. & De Vos, C. (2012). A prelinguistic gestural universal of human communication. Cognitive Science 36, 698713.
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Henning, A., Striano, T. & Tomasello, M. (2004). Twelve-month-olds point to share attention and interest. Developmental Science 7, 297307.
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Striano, T. & Tomasello, M. (2006). 12- and 18-month-olds point to provide information. Journal of Cognition and Development 7, 173–87.
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M. & Tomasello, M. (2007). Reference and attitude in infant pointing. Journal of Child Language 32, 120.
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M. & Tomasello, M. (2008). Twelve-month-olds communicate helpfully and appropriately for knowledgeable and ignorant partners. Cognition 108, 732–9.
MacWhinney, B. (2000). The CHILDES project: tools for analyzing talk, 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Marascuilo, L. A. & McSweeney, M. (1977). Nonparametric and distribution-free methods for the social sciences. Manterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Matthews, D., Lieven, E., Theakston, A. & Tomasello, M. (2006). The effect of perceptual availability and prior discourse on young children's use of referring expressions. Applied Psycholinguistics 27, 403–22.
Moll, H. & Tomasello, M. (2004). 12- and 18-month-old infants follow gaze to spaces behind barriers. Developmental Science 7, F19.
Narasimhan, B., Budwig, N. & Murty, L. (2005). Argument realization in Hindi caregiver–child discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 37, 461–95.
Ogura, T., Dale, P. S., Yamashita, Y., Murase, T. & Mahieu, A. (2006). The use of nouns and verbs by Japanese children and their caregivers in book-reading and toy-playing. Journal of Child Language 33, 129.
Özçalışkan, S. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2005). Gesture is at the cutting edge of early language development. Cognition 96, B10113.
Özçalışkan, S. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2009). When gesture–speech combinations do and do not index linguistic change. Language and Cognitive Processes 24, 190217.
Paradis, J. & Navarro, S. (2003). Subject realization and crosslinguistic interference in the bilingual acquisition of Spanish and English: What is the role of input? Journal of Child Language 30, 371–93.
Rohde, H. & Frank, M. C. (2014). Markers of topical discourse in child-directed speech. Cognitive Science 38, 1634–61.
Rozendaal, M. & Baker, A. (2008). A crosslinguistic investigation of the acquisition of the pragmatics of indefinite and definite reference in two-year-olds. Journal of Child Language 38, 135.
Rozendaal, M. & Baker, A. (2010). The acquisition of reference: pragmatic aspects and the influences of language input. Journal of Pragmatics 42, 1866–79.
Salomo, D., Graf, E. & Lieven, E. (2011). The role of perceptual availability and discourse context in young children's question answering. Journal of Child Language 38, 918–31.
Salomo, D., Lieven, E. & Tomasello, M. (2010). Young children's sensitivity to new and given information when answering predicate-focus questions. Applied Psycholinguistics 31, 101–15.
Salomo, D. & Liszkowski, U. (2013). Sociocultural settings influence the emergence of prelinguistic deictic gestures. Child Development 84, 1296–307.
Serratrice, L. (2005). The role of discourse-pragmatics in the acquisition of subjects in Italian. Applied Psycholinguistics 26, 437–62.
Skarabela, B. (2007). Signs of early social cognition in children's syntax: the case of joint attention in argument realization in child Inuktitut. Lingua 117, 1837–57.
Skarabela, B. & Allen, S. E. M. (2010). How newness and joint attention work together in child Inuktitut: assessing discourse-pragmatic models of early argument realization. In Franich, K., Iserman, K. M. & Lauren, L. K. (eds), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 385–96. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Skarabela, B., Allen, S. E. M. & Scott-Philips, T. C. (2013). Joint attention helps explain why children omit new referents. Journal of Pragmatics 56, 514.
So, W. C., Demir, Ö. E. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2010). When speech is ambiguous, gesture steps in: sensitivity to discourse-pragmatic principles in early childhood. Applied Psycholinguistics 31, 209–24.
So, W. C. & Lim, J. Y. (2012). Point to a referent, and say, ‘what is this?’ Gesture as a potential cue to identify referents in a discourse. Applied Psycholinguistics 33, 329–42.
So, W. C., Lim, J. Y. & Tan, (2014). Sensitivity to information status in discourse: gesture precedes speech in unbalanced bilinguals. Applied Psycholinguistics 35, 7195.
Stephens, G. & Matthews, D. (2014). The communicative infant from 0–18 months: the social-cognitive foundations of pragmatic development. In Matthews, D. (ed.), Pragmatic development in first language acquisition (pp. 1336). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Valian, V. (1991). Syntactic subjects in the early speech of American and Italian children. Cognition 40, 2181.
Wang, Q., Lillo-Martin, D., Best, C. T. & Levitt, A. (1992). Null subject versus null object: some evidence from the acquisition of Chinese and English. Language Acquisition 2, 221–54.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Referential interactions of Turkish-learning children with their caregivers about non-absent objects: integration of non-verbal devices and prior discourse*

  • BEYZA Ş. ATEŞ (a1) and AYLİN C. KÜNTAY (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.