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A New Look at Infant Pointing


  • We would like to thank the members of the Leipzig Social Cognition Group for helpful discussions of many of the ideas in this article, and all reviewers for helpful comments on a previous draft.

concerning this article should be addressed to Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. Electronic mail may be sent to


The current article proposes a new theory of infant pointing involving multiple layers of intentionality and shared intentionality. In the context of this theory, evidence is presented for a rich interpretation of prelinguistic communication, that is, one that posits that when 12-month-old infants point for an adult they are in some sense trying to influence her mental states. Moreover, evidence is also presented for a deeply social view in which infant pointing is best understood—on many levels and in many ways—as depending on uniquely human skills and motivations for cooperation and shared intentionality (e.g., joint intentions and attention with others). Children's early linguistic skills are built on this already existing platform of prelinguistic communication.

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