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date: 15 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter investigates how infants communicate before they have acquired a language; the underlying social cognition and motivation; and the evolutionary and ontogenetic origins of human communication. Evidence is reviewed that by 12 months of age, infants’ production and comprehension of the human pointing gesture involves several interwoven layers of communicative intentions, and pertains in complexity to unique forms of human communication. Limits of infant communication pertain to representational gesture use, particularly the spontaneous creation of pantomimic iconic gestures, and to the expression of referential intentions in early infancy. Commonalities and differences to ape communication are identified at different developmental ages regarding the use of reaching gestures and communication about distal and absent referents. Recent evidence is presented for the role of social interaction in the early ontogenetic emergence of uniquely human forms of gestural communication.

Keywords: infant communication, ape communication, social cognition, social interaction, communicative intentions, absent referents, gesture, pointing, reaching, iconic gestures

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