Skip to main content Accessibility help

Bids for joint attention by parent–child dyads and by dyads of young peers in interaction*

  • ANAT NINIO (a1)


Before they are 3;0–3;6, children typically do not engage with peers in focused interaction, although they do with adults. With parents, children interact around the ‘here-and-now’. We hypothesize that young peers do not attempt to establish joint attention to present objects. Using the CHILDES database, we compared attention-directives produced by parents to children, children to peers, and children to parents. Of 391 English-speaking parents, 88% generated attention-directives, mostly Look!, See!, and Watch! Of 15 children (2;10–3;7) engaging in dyadic peer-interaction, only 26% produced such utterances. By comparison, 62% of 268 children (1;2–3;3) addressed such directives to parents. Interaction with peers in young children does not involve joint attention to a shared environmental focus, although it does with parents. The reason may be pragmatic: shared attention in parent–child dyads is a means to get information or help; it may seem pointless for a child to address such directives to a peer.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Anat Ninio, Department of Psychology, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. e-mail:


Hide All

Construction of the speech corpora and syntactic annotation were supported under Grant 200900206 to Anat Ninio by the Spencer Foundation. Parts of this research were presented at the 13th International Congress for the Study of Child Language, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, July 2014. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.



Hide All
Akhtar, N., Dunham, F. & Dunham, P. J. (1991). Directive interactions and early vocabulary development: the role of joint attentional focus. Journal of Child Language, 18, 41–9.
Bakeman, R. & Adamson, L. B. (1984). Coordinating attention to people and objects in mother–infant and peer–infant interaction. Child Development, 55, 1278–89.
Bates, E., Bretherton, I. &Snyder, L. (1988). From first words to grammar: individual differences and dissociable mechanisms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bellinger, D. & Gleason, J. (1982). Sex differences in parental directives to young children. Journal of Sex Roles, 8, 1123–39.
Bernstein, N. (1982). Acoustic study of mothers' speech to language-learning children: an analysis of vowel articulatory characteristics. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
Bernstein-Ratner, N. (1984). Patterns of vowel modification in motherese. Journal of Child Language, 11, 557–78.
Bliss, L. (1988). The development of modals. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 9, 253–61.
Bloom, L. (1970). Language development: form and function in emerging grammars. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bloom, L. (1973). One word at a time: the use of single-word utterances before syntax. The Hague: Mouton.
Bornstein, M. H., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Hahn, C. S. & Haynes, O. M. (2008). Maternal responsiveness to young children at three ages: a longitudinal analysis of a multidimensional, modular and specific parenting construct. Developmental Psychology, 44, 867–74.
Brent, M. R. & Siskind, J. M (2001). The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development. Cognition, 81, 3144.
Bronson, W. (1981). Toddlers’ behavior with agemates: issues of interaction, cognition, and affects (Monographs on Infancy, Vol. 1). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N., Yuksel-Sokmen, O. & Ragir, S. (2014). Natural pedagogy in twin infants’ early communicative acts. Paper presented at the 13th International Congress for the Study of Child Language, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Brown, R. (1973). A first language: the early stages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. S. (1982). The language of education. Social Research, 49, 835–53.
Bruner, J. S. (1983). Child's talk. New York: Norton.
Bruner, J. S. & Sherwood, V. (1976). Early rule structure: the case of peekaboo. In Bruner, J. S., Jolly, A. & Sylva, K. (Eds), Play: its role in evolution and development (pp. 699701). London: Penguin Books.
Camaioni, L. & Laicardi, C. (1985). Early social games and the acquisition of language. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3, 31–9.
Carlson-Luden, V. (1979). Causal understanding in the 10-month-old. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Clark, E. V. (1978). Discovering what words can do. In Farkas, D., Jacobsen, W. M. & Todrys, K. W. (Eds), Papers from the Parasession on the Lexicon, CLS 14 (pp. 3457). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Demetras, M. (1989a). Changes in parents’ conversational responses: a function of grammatical development. Paper presented at ASHA, St Louis, MO.
Demetras, M. (1989b). Working parents’ conversational responses to their two-year-old sons. Unpublished working paper. Tucson, University of Arizona.
Dickinson, D. K., Griffith, J. A., Golinkoff, R. M. & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2012). How reading books fosters language development around the world. Child Development Research, 2012, 115. Online
Dunham, P. J., Dunham, F. & Curwin, A. (1993). Joint-attentional states and lexical acquisition at 18 months. Developmental Psychology, 29, 827–31.
Eckerman, C. & Stein, M. (1982). The toddler's emerging interactive skills. In Rubin, K. H. & Ross, H. S. (Eds), Peer relations and social skills in childhood (pp. 4172). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Eckerman, C. O., Whatley, J. L. & Kutz, S. L. (1975). Growth of social play with peers during the second year of life. Developmental Psychology, 11, 42–9.
Feldman, A. (1998). Constructing grammar: fillers, formulas, and function. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: the control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87, 477531.
Fletcher, K. L., Perez, A., Hooper, C. & Claussen, A. H. (2005). Responsiveness and attention during picture-book reading in 18-month-old to 24-month-old toddlers at risk. Early Child Development and Care, 175, 6383.
Forrester, M. A. (1992). The development of young children's social-cognitive skills. Hove: Erlbaum.
Francis, W. N. & Kučera, H. (1979). Brown corpus manual of information to accompany a standard corpus of present-day American English, revised and amplified. Providence, RI: Brown University, Department of Linguistics.
Garvey, C. (1976). Some properties of social play. In Bruner, J., Jolley, A. & Sylva, K. (eds), Play: its role in development and evolution (pp. 570–83). Middlesex: Penguin.
Garvey, C. & Hogan, R. (1973). Social speech and social interaction: egocentrism revisited. Child Development, 44, 562–8.
Goldfield, B. (1990). Pointing, naming, and talk about objects: referential behaviour in children and mothers. First Language, 10, 231–42.
Goldman, B. & Ross, H. (1978). Social skills in action. In Glick, J. & Clarke-Stewart, K. A. (Eds), Studies in social and cognitive development. Vol. 1: development of social understanding (pp. 177212). New York: Gardiner Press.
Goodman, J. C., Dale, P. S. & Li, P. (2008). Does frequency count? Parental input and the acquisition of vocabulary. Journal of Child Language, 35, 515–31.
Green, J. A., Gustafson, G. E. & West, M. J. (1980). Effects of infant development on mother–infant interactions. Child Development, 51, 199207.
Gustafson, G. E., Green, L. A. & West, M. J. (1979). The infant's changing role in mother–infant games: the growth of social skills. Infant Behavior and Development, 2, 301–8.
Hay, D., Ross, H. & Davis, B. (1979). Social games in infancy. In Sutton-Smith, B. (Ed.), Play and learning (pp. 83107). New York: Gardiner Press.
Hayes, D. P. (2000). The Cornell Corpus. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Higginson, R. P. (1985). Fixing-assimilation in language acquisition. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Washington State University.
Howe, C. (1981). Acquiring language in a conversational context. New York: Academic Press.
Huttenlocher, J., Haight, W., Bryk, A., Seltzer, M. & Lyons, T. (1991). Early vocabulary growth: relation to language input and gender. Developmental Psychology, 27, 236–48
Kaye, K. & Charney, R. (1980) How mothers maintain dialogue with two-year-olds. In Olson, D. R. (ed.), The social foundations of language and thought (pp. 211–30). New York: Norton.
Korman, M. (1984). Adaptive aspects of maternal vocalizations in differing contexts at ten weeks. First Language, 5, 44–5.
Kuczaj, S. (1976). -ing, -s and -ed: a study of the acquisition of certain verb inflections. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota.
Lee, J. N. & Naigles, L. R. (2005). Input to verb learning in Mandarin Chinese: a role for syntactic bootstrapping. Developmental Psychology, 41, 529–40.
Lieven, E. V. M. (1978). Conversations between mothers and young children: individual differences and their possible implications for the study of language learning. In Waterson, N. & Snow, C. (Eds), The development of communication (pp. 173–87). Chichester: Wiley.
MacWhinney, B. (2000). The CHILDES project: tools for analyzing talk, 3rd ed.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
MacWhinney, B. & Snow, C. (1985). The Child Language Data Exchange System. Journal of Child Language, 12, 271–95.
McMillan, J. (unpublished). Videos collected in Brian MacWhinney's course in psycholinguistics, 2004, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.
Morisset, C. E. (1991). Environmental influences on language development of high social risk toddlers. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Washington.
Ninio, A. (1980). The ostensive definition in vocabulary teaching. Journal of Child Language, 7, 565–73.
Ninio, A. (1983). Joint bookreading as a multiple vocabulary acquisition device. Developmental Psychology, 19, 445–51.
Ninio, A. (2011). Syntactic development, its input and output. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ninio, A. & Bruner, J. (1978). The achievement and antecedents of labelling. Journal of Child Language, 5, 115.
Ninio, A. & Snow, E. C. (1996). Pragmatic development. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Ninio, A. & Wheeler, P. (1984). Functions of speech in mother–infant interaction: designing a coding scheme for the description and classification of verbal–social acts. In Feagans, L., Garvey, G. J. & Golinkoff, R. (Eds), The origins and growth of communication 196207. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Pan, B. A., Imbens-Bailey, A., Winner, K. & Snow, C. E. (1996). Communicative intents of parents interacting with their young children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 42, 248–66.
Parten, M. (1932). Social participation among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 136–47.
Post, K. (1992). The language learning environment of laterborns in a rural Florida community. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
Ratner, N. & Bruner, J. S. (1978). Games, social exchange and the acquisition of language. Journal of Child Language, 5, 391401.
Rollins, P. R. (2003). Caregivers’ contingent comments to 9-month-old infants: relationships with later language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 24, 221–34.
Rome-Flanders, T., Cossette, L., Ricard, M. & Gouin Decarie, T. (1995). Comprehension of rules and structures in mother–infant games: a longitudinal study of the first two years of life. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 18, 83103.
Rowland, C. F. & Fletcher, S. L. (2006). The effect of sampling on estimates of lexical specificity and error rates. Journal of Child Language, 33, 859–77.
Sachs, J. (1983). Talking about the there and then: the emergence of displaced reference in parent–child discourse. In Nelson, K. E. (Ed.), Children's language, Vol. 4, (pp. 128). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Schaffer, H. R., Hepburn, A. & Collis, G. M. (1983). Verbal and nonverbal aspects of mothers’ directives. Journal of Child Language, 10, 337–55.
Snow, C. E. (1977). The development of conversation between mothers and babies. Journal of Child Language, 4, 122.
Snow, C. E. (1979). The role of social interaction in language acquisition. In Collins, W. A. (ed.), Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology 12 (pp. 157–82). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Snow, C. E., de Blauw, A. & van Roosmalen, G. (1978). Talking and playing with babies: the role of ideologies of child rearing. In Bullowa, M. (Ed.), Before speech (pp. 269–88). London: Cambridge University Press.
Snow, C. E., Pan, B., Imbens-Bailey, A. & Herman, J. (1996). Learning how to say what one means: a longitudinal study of children's speech act use. Social Development, 5, 5684.
Suppes, P. (1974). The semantics of children's language. American Psychologist, 29, 103–14.
Tardif, T., Gelman, S. A. & Xu, F. (1999). Putting the ‘Noun Bias’ in context: a comparison of English and Mandarin. Child Development, 70, 620–35.
Theakston, A. L., Lieven, E. V. M., Pine, J. M. & Rowland, C. F. (2001). The role of performance limitations in the acquisition of verb–argument structure: an alternative account. Journal of Child Language, 28, 127–52.
Tomasello, M. & Farrar, M. J. (1986). Joint attention and early language. Child Development, 57, 1454–63.
Valian, V. (1991). Syntactic subjects in the early speech of American and Italian children. Cognition, 40, 2181.
Van Houten, L. (1986). Role of maternal input in the acquisition process: the communicative strategies of adolescent and older mothers with their language learning children. Paper presented at the Boston University Conference on Language Development, Boston.
Warren-Leubecker, A. (1982). Sex differences in speech to children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgia Institute of Technology.
Warren-Leubecker, A. & Bohannon, J. N. (1984). Intonation patterns in child-directed speech: mother–father speech. Child Development, 55, 1379–85.
Wells, C. G. (1981). Learning through interaction: the study of language development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, B. & Peters, A. M. (1988). What are you cookin’ on a hot? Movement constraints in the speech of a three-year-old blind child. Language, 64, 249–73.
Wilson, J. & Henry, A. (1998). Parameter setting within a socially realistic linguistics. Language in Society, 27, 121.
Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S. & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 17, 89100.
Zamuner, T. S., Gerken, L. A. & Hammond, M. (2005). The acquisition of phonology based on input: a closer look at the relation of cross-linguistic and child language data. Lingua, 115, 1403–26.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Bids for joint attention by parent–child dyads and by dyads of young peers in interaction*

  • ANAT NINIO (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.