Investigating prelinguistic development in three minority cultures

Humans are unique in their desire and motivation to share experiences and draw attention to objects and events ‘for sharing’s sake’. Indeed there is a strong theoretical argument that what is unique to human evolution and to the development of language is the understanding of shared intentionality – recognising that others have intentions and that these can be shared.

hsee begin to display the ability and desire to share experiences from around 10 months of age and research indicates that, in western middle-class families, there is a correlation between pre-linguistic joint attentional gestures and early vocabulary development. There is also a growing body of literature showing that qualitative differences exist within and across cultures in the rates with which people interact with babies in joint attentional contexts, and that cultural differences in parent-child interaction both in terms of language and gesture may be associated with certain aspects of cognitive development.

There has been very little research on non-WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) communities in terms of prelinguistic behaviours and interaction. For both theoretical and social reasons it is essential thatsee the focus is widened. In the current project we are investigating the emergence and interaction surrounding prelinguistic communicative gestures in first generation Bengali and Chinese families living in the Manchester area, along with a group of monolingual British families. All families are drawn from low income communities in an attempt to redress the socio-economic bias found in infancy research. The aim of the project is to find out whether cultural differences exist between the three groups and if so whether the differences have an effect on the early stages of language development.

The project involves semi-naturalistic recordings of infants aged between 10-12 month old and their mothers during free play activities. We will analyse all communicative gestures used by the infants (i.e. object hold outs, ostensive reaches, points, and vocalisations) along with the mothers' responses to the acts, and then ascertain the relationship between these behaviours and infant language development.

In addition to fulfilling the core research aim we hope that our findings will provide an important insight for community workers and early years practitioners working with low income children and families from a range of cultures.

Project Team: Thea Cameron-Faulkner (Lead), Elena Lieven, Nivedita Malik, Ludovica Serratrice and Circle Steele

Start Date: September 2014

Duration: 2 years 

(Work Package 14)