A study of multimodal motherese: The role of temporal synchrony between verbal labels and gestures

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This study examined European American and Hispanic American mothers' multimodal communication to their infants (N = 24). The infants were from three age groups representing three levels of lexical-mapping development: prelexical (5 to 8 months), early-lexical (9 to 17 months), and advanced-lexical (21 to 30 months). Mothers taught their infants four target (novel) words by using distinct objects during a semistructured play episode. Recent research suggests that young infants rely on temporal synchrony to learn syllable-object relations, but later, the role of synchrony diminishes. Thus, mothers' target and nontarget naming were coded for synchrony and other communication styles. The results indicated that mothers used target words more often than nontarget words in synchrony with object motion and sometimes touch. Thus, "multimodal motherese" likely highlights target word-referent relations for infants. Further, mothers tailored their communication to infants' level of lexical-mapping development. Mothers of prelexical infants used target words in synchrony with object motion more often than mothers of early- and advanced-lexical infants. Mothers' decreasing use of synchrony across age parallels infants' decreasing reliance on synchrony, suggesting a dynamical and reciprocal environment-organismic relation.



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