Children Use Gesture to Interpret Novel Verb Meanings


  • This research was supported by a PhD studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council to Katherine H. Mumford. We would like to thank Emily Bright for her help in stimulus production.


Children often find it difficult to map verbs to specific referents within complex scenes, often believing that additional features are part of the referents. This study investigated whether 3-year-olds could use iconic gestures to map novel verbs to specific referents. One hundred and twenty children were taught verbs that could be interpreted as change-of-state or manner verbs while presented with manner, end-state, or no iconic gestures. Children were then presented with a choice that forced them to generalize either on the basis of manner or end state. Results showed that children who saw manner gestures showed a stronger manner bias compared to the other groups. Thus, the specific feature of an event encoded in gestures guides children's interpretations of novel words.