I hear what you say but I see what you mean: the role of gestures in children's pragmatic comprehension

Elizabeth Kirk, Karen Pine, Nuala Ryder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
145 Downloads (Pure)


This study investigated whether gesture can enhance the pragmatic comprehension of language impaired children. Language impaired children (N=21) and age matched typically developing children (N=26) were presented verbal scenarios in two conditions: speech only and speech+gesture. In the speech+ gesture condition, speech was accompanied by iconic gestures which conveyed relevant semantic information complimentary to the spoken message. Children were asked questions about each scenario that required them to make inferences beyond what was explicitly stated. All children answered more questions correctly when verbal scenarios were accompanied by gesture, however, this difference was only significant for language impaired children. To examine whether children integrated the information conveyed by gesture into their representation of the spoken message, we analysed the gestures children produced as they answered the questions. Children gestured more when they were verbalising correct inferences than incorrect ones. Furthermore, children, especially those with specific language impairment, produced the same gestures that they observed and were more likely to do so in correct rather than incorrect answers. Gestures make a crucial contribution to an utterance's meaning, helping children, especially those with a language impairment to understand speech that requires meaning to be inferred.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-170
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • comprehension
  • gesture
  • nonverbal
  • specific language impairment


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