Early Action and Gesture “Vocabulary” and Its Relation With Word Comprehension and Production


  • The work reported in this study was partially supported by the Fondazione Monte di Parma (Research Group for Study on Children’s Motor and Language Development, University of Parma), and by research Grant PRIN 2008 “Gestures and Language in Children With Atypical and at Risk Developmental Profiles: Relationships Among Competences, Mother–Child Interaction Modalities and Proposals of Intervention.” We are very grateful to Michael Arbib for his insightful suggestions on an early presentation of this study and to Diane Brentari for her helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. We especially thank the parents who participated in the study. We also wish to thank Mark Kanieff for his helpful comments and for the revision of English.

concerning this article should be addressed to Maria Cristina Caselli, Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione—CNR, Via Nomentana, 56-00161 Rome, Italy. Electronic mail may be sent to cristina.caselli@istc.cnr.it.


Data from 492 Italian infants (8–18 months) were collected with the parental questionnaire MacArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventories to describe early actions and gestures (A-G) “vocabulary” and its relation with spoken vocabulary in both comprehension and production. A-G were more strongly correlated with word comprehension than word production. A clear developmental pattern for the different types of A-G was found. These findings are similar to those of different Western languages, indicating a common biological and cultural basis. The analysis of individual A-G and their relations with early words with a related meaning showed interesting similarities between the production of A-G with and without object manipulation and the comprehension and production of corresponding words. Results indicate that the transition from A-G to spoken language is mediated by word comprehension.