A prelinguistic gestural universal of human communication

Ulf Liszkowski, Penelope Brown, Tara Callaghan, Akira Takada, Connie De Vos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Several cognitive accounts of human communication argue for a language-independent, prelinguistic basis of human communication and language. The current study provides evidence for the universality of a prelinguistic gestural basis for human communication. We used a standardized, semi-natural elicitation procedure in seven very different cultures around the world to test for the existence of preverbal pointing in infants and their caregivers. Results were that by 104 months of age, infants and their caregivers pointed in all cultures in the same basic situation with similar frequencies and the same proto-typical morphology of the extended index finger. Infants but not by cultural group. Further analyses revealed a strong relation between the temporal unfolding of caregiverstextquoteright and infants uncovering a structure of early prelinguistic gestural conversation. Findings support the existence of a gestural, language-independent universal of human communication that forms a culturally shared, prelinguistic basis for diversified linguistic communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-713
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Science
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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