Children's use of gesture to resolve lexical ambiguity Academic Article uri icon


  • We report on a study investigating 3-5-year-old children's use of gesture to resolve lexical ambiguity. Children were told three short stories that contained two homonym senses; for example, bat (flying mammal) and bat (sports equipment). They were then asked to re-tell these stories to a second experimenter. The data were coded for the means that children used during attempts at disambiguation: speech, gesture, or a combination of the two. The results indicated that the 3-year-old children rarely disambiguated the two senses, mainly using deictic pointing gestures during attempts at disambiguation. In contrast, the 4-year-old children attempted to disambiguate the two senses more often, using a larger proportion of iconic gestures than the other children. The 5-year-old children used less iconic gestures than the 4-year-olds, but unlike the 3-year-olds, were able to disambiguate the senses through the verbal channel. The results highlight the value of gesture to the development of children's language and communication skills.

publication date

  • November 2009