Ulf Liszkowski

Prelinguistic foundations of human communication

I will address the ontogenetic foundations of human communication in the first two years of life, before linguistic communication has emerged in earnest. Evidence shows that prelinguistic infants communicate with deictic gestures, and that infants' usage of these gestures reveals a complex socio-pragmatic understanding of others' actions and non-verbal communication that is not seen in non-human primates' gestural communication. Vocal communication is initially heavily dependant on the gestural system and does not compensate in situations in which gestural communication is insufficient. Representational gestural communication, e.g., through spontaneous iconic or pantomimic gestures, is a later developmental achievement, after language has emerged. The findings suggest that linguistic communication rests on unique social-cognitive and cooperative skills that are first evident in, and presumably emerge through, visual deictic gestures and attention-structuring manual interactions.

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