What role does gesturing play as children learn to speak? What gestures do they use to complement their verbal statements? Can computer-assisted models of language acquisition explain different types of gestures? In the new project EcoGest, researchers are investigating how children’s use of gestures is connected to communication. Researchers from the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) and collaborators are working together on the project.
“With a computer-assisted model, we want to simulate how children of a certain age use gestures when speaking,” says Professor Dr. Stefan Kopp from CITEC. Toward this goal, his colleagues from linguistics will investigate how the use of gestures is integrated in different interactional and cognitive demands.
“When children speak, they use various types of gestures. In this project, iconic gestures take center stage. These gestures pertain to the forms, functions, and movements of objects,” says Professor Dr. Katharina Rohlfing, a psycholinguist at Paderborn University and an associate member of CITEC.
Gestures go hand-in-hand with speech. Yet these gestures differ depending on the particular linguistic delivery. “A linguistic task makes different demands on children, which they manage in part by using verbal and gesture-based means,” says Professor Dr. Friederike Kern, from the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies at Bielefeld University.
Over a period of three years, the researchers will record children aged four to five years old in various communicative situations. The children will be tasked, for instance, with explaining an activity, or telling a story. The researchers will then observe the context and grammatical constructions for which the children use gestures, along with what gestures they use.
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