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  4. Early pragmatic development and the transition to language: The role of infant-caregiver interaction




Early pragmatic development and the transition to language: The role of infant-caregiver interaction




A light lunch with refreshments will be provided.

Speaker: Dr Danielle Matthews

The Centre for Language and Communication Science Researchat the School of Health Science, City, University of London welcomes Dr Danielle Matthews to discuss their findings on communicative development during infancy as part of the research seminar series.


It is argued that early pragmatic developments, and caregivers responses to them, prepare the transition to language. We tested this proposal in two studies, one with a group of socio-economically diverse infants and the other with a smaller group of deaf infants.  In a study of 134 11-month-olds, we coded a comprehensive set of infant vocalisations and gestures produced during free play and found these acts were likely to be under intentional control and were audience directed. Furthermore, gaze coordinated communicative acts were significantly more likely to elicit a caregiver response, suggesting they are important for shaping the learning environment. We followed 58 infants longitudinally to test which of all the elements of  pre-linguistic communication best predict the transition to conventional language use in the second year. Using a new multi-model inference method, we found a set of valuable positive and negative predictors (Positive: show gestures and gaze co-ordinated vocalisations. Negative: open hand pointing gestures). A further analysis considering in addition how parents responded to these infant acts revealed that the best predictor of the transition to language was the frequency with which infants produced gaze co-ordinated vocalisations that were then responded to by the caregiver with language that was relevant to the infant’s focus of attention. An infant who benefited from such interactions with a frequency 1SD above the mean, was predicted to produce approximately 28 more words than the average infant by 19 months.  A second study suggests these early pragmatic developments are at risk in deaf infants who have hearing parents (not fluent users of a natural signed language). We observed 8 severe-profoundly deaf infants (12-18 months) matched with typically hearing infants for age in days, gender and socio-economic status and found reduced hearing had a significant negative effect on the frequency of precisely the kinds of early communication that predict later development. Together these results show the importance of early infant-caregiver interaction for early pragmatic developments and the transition to language.

About the speaker

Dr Danielle Matthews is a Reader in Cognitive Development at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on how children learn to talk (lexical, grammatical and pragmatic development) and how interaction with others promotes development. As part of a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, she is currently writing a book on Pragmatic Development: How children learn to use language for social communication.

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When and where

12.45pm - 2.00pmMonday 15th July 2019

MG26 Myddelton Street Building City, University of London 1 Myddelton Street London EC1R 1UW United Kingdom