Children's Gestures from 18 to 30 Months

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This thesis concerns the nature of the gestures performed by five Swedish children. The children are followed from 18 to 30 months of age: an age range which is characterized by a rapid succession of developmental changes in children's abilities to communicate by means of both spoken language and gesture. There are few studies of gesture in children of these ages, making it essential to ask a number of basic questions: What sort of gestural actions do the children perform? How does the use of gesture change over time, from 18 to 30 months of age? How are the gestures performed in coordination with speech? The answers provided to these questions are both quantitative and qualitative in kind. Several transitions in the use of gesture are identified, relating to developmental changes in the organization of speech — highlighting the symbiotic relationship between gesture and speech in the communicative ecology.
Considerable attention is paid to the even more basic question of what sort of actions qualify for the label "gesture". Instead of treating gestural qualities as a matter of a binary distinction between actions counting as gesture and those that do not, a multi-level approach is advocated. This approach allows for descriptions of gestures in terms of several different levels of complexity. Furthermore, a distinction is made between levels of communicative explicitness on the one hand, and levels of semiotic complexity on the other. This distinction allows for the recognition that some gestural actions are semiotically complex, without being explicitly communicative, and vice versa: that some gestural actions are explicitly communicative, without being semiotically complex. The latter is particularly consequential for this thesis, since a large number of communicative gestural actions reside in the borderland between practical action and expressive gesture. Hence, the gestures analyzed include not only the prototypical "empty-handed" gestures, but also gestures that involve handling of physical objects. Overall, the role of conventionality in children's gestures is underscored.
The approach is (a) cognitive in the sense that it pays attention to the knowledge and bodily skills involved in the performance of the gestures, (b) social and interactive in the sense that it views gestures as visible and accountable parts of mutually organized social activities, and (c) semiotic in the sense that the analysis tries to explicate how signification is brought about, in contrast to treating the meanings of gestures as transparently given, the way participants themselves often do when engaged in social interaction.


  • Mats Andrén
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • children, gesture, development, communication, language, action, semiotics, social cognition
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2010 Nov 20
  • Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-628-8178-8
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2010-11-20 Time: 10:15 Place: Övre Palaestra, Universitetsplatsen, Paradisgatan 4, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Kendon, Adam Title: Professor Affiliation: University of Pennsylvania, USA ---

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