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The Organization of Words and Symbolic Gestures in 18-Month-Olds’ Lexicons: Evidence From a Disambiguation Task

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should be sent to Sumarga H. Suanda, Department of Psychology, Emory University, 36 Eagle Row, Atlanta, GA 30322. E-mail: ssuanda@emory.edu

Abstract

Infants’ early communicative repertoires include both words and symbolic gestures. The current study examined the extent to which infants organize words and gestures in a single unified lexicon. As a window into lexical organization, eighteen-month-olds’ (N = 32) avoidance of word–gesture overlap was examined and compared with avoidance of word–word overlap. The current study revealed that when presented with novel words, infants avoided lexical overlap, mapping novel words onto novel objects. In contrast, when presented with novel gestures, infants sought overlap, mapping novel gestures onto familiar objects. The results suggest that infants do not treat words and gestures as equivalent lexical items and that during a period of development when word and symbolic gesture processing share many similarities, important differences also exist between these two symbolic forms.

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