Skip to main content Accessibility help

Functions of the Pointing Gesture in Mothers and their 12 to 36-Month-Old Children during Everyday Activities

  • Mercedes Amparo Muñetón Ayala (a1) and María José Rodrigo López (a2)


This study longitudinally examined the production of pointing in four Spanish 1-year-old and four Spanish 2-year-old children in interactive situations with their mothers at home over the course of one year. Three aspects were analyzed: a) the functions of the pointing gesture, their accurate comprehension by the interlocutor (mother or child), and their order of emergence in the child; b) whether or not there were differences in the production of pointing according to who initiated the interaction; and c) whether maternal and child speech were related to maternal and child pointing production. The results showed that the pointing function of showing is the most frequent for both children and mothers from groups 1 and 2, and the first to emerge followed by the informing, requesting object, requesting action, and requesting cooperation functions. The accuracy with which these intentions were comprehended was found to be very high for both mother and child. Pointing production was greater when the speaker initiated the interaction than when the other person did, indicating that gestures follow the turn-taking system. Finally, the production of pointing to showing in children and mothers was found to be related to maternal and child speech, while pointing to request cooperation triggered the process of joint activity between mother and child.

Se examinó longitudinalmente durante un año la producción de gestos de señalamiento de 8 niños (4 de 1 años y 4 de 2 años) en situaciones interactivas con sus madres en el hogar. Se analizaron tres aspectos: a) las funciones del señalamiento, su uso y comprensión por parte de la madre y del niño y su edad de emergencia; b) si existían cambios en la producción de señalamientos de la madre y del niño en función de quién inicia la interacción; y c) si había relación entre las funciones del señalamiento y la producción verbal de la madre y del niño. Los resultados sugieren que el señalamiento de mostrar tiene una mayor producción tanto en la madre como en el niño y a nivel evolutivo emerge primero, seguido del de informar, pedir objeto, pedir acción y cooperación. La madre y el niño interpretan con precisión las diferentes funciones de los gestos de señalamiento. Iniciar la interacción verbal incrementa la probabilidad de producir señalamientos lo que indica que los gestos también se articulan según el sistema de turnos. Por último, la función de mostrar está más relacionado con el desarrollo lingüístico, mientras que la de cooperar dispara el proceso de colaboración entre madre e hijo.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mercedes Amparo Muñetón Ayala. Facultad de Comunicaciones, Ciudad Universitaria, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, (Colombia). E-mail:


Hide All
Aureli, T., Perucchini, P., & Genco, M. (2009). Children's understanding of communicative intentions in the middle of the second year of life. Cognitive Development, 24, 112. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2008.07.003
Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Baldwin, D. A. (1991). Infant contributions to the achievement of joint reference. Child Development, 62, 875890. doi:10.2307/1131140
Baldwin, D. (1995) Understanding the link between joint attention and language. In Moore, C. & Dunham, P. J. (Eds.), Joint Attention: Its origins and role in development (pp. 131154) Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Baron-Cohen, S. (1989). Perceptual role-taking and protodeclarative pointing in autism. British Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 285298.
Bates, E., Camaioni, L., & Volterra, V. (1975). The acquisition of preformatives prior to speech. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 21, 205226
Bates, E, Benigni, L, Bretherton, I, Camaioni, L., & Volterra, V. (1979). The Emergence of Symbols: Cognition and Communication in Infancy. New York, NY: Academic Press.
Bloom, L., Rocissano, L., & Hood, L. (1976). Adult-child discourse: developmental interaction between information processing and linguistic knowledge. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 521552. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(76)90017-7
Bruner, S. J. (1975) Child development: play is serious business. Psychology Today, 8, 8083.
Bruner, S. J. (1977). Early social Interaction and Language Acquisition. In Schaffer, H. R. (Ed.), Studies in Mother-lnfant Interaction (pp. 271289). London, UK: Academic Press.
Butterworth, G., & Morissette, P. (1996). Onset of pointing and the acquisition of language in infancy. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 14, 219231. doi:10.1080/02646839608404519
Camaioni, L. (1993). The development of intentional communication: A re-analysis. In Nadel, J. & Camaioni, L. (Eds.), New perspectives in early communicative development (pp. 8296). London, UK: Routledge.
Camaioni, L., Castelli, M. C., Longobardi, E., & Volterra, V. (1991). A parent report instrument for early language assessment. First Language, 11, 345358. doi:10.1177/014272379 101103303
Camaioni, L., Perucchini, P., Bellagamba, F., & Colonnesi, C. (2004). The role of declarative pointing in developing a theory of mind. Infancy, 5, 291308. doi:10.1207/s15327078in0503_3
Carpenter, M., Nagell, K., & Tomasello, M. (1998). Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 63(4). doi:10.2307/1166214
Clark, H. (1996). Uses of language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Elgier, A. M., & Mustaca, A. E. (2009). Perspectivas teóricas contemporáneas sobre el gesto de señalar infantil [Contemporary theoretical perspectives on the infant pointing gesture]. Avances en Psicología Latinoamericana, 27, 281296.
Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Bates, E., Thal, D. J., & Pethick, S. J. (1994). Variability in early communicative development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(5). doi:10.2307/1166093
Franco, F., & Butterworth, G. (1996). Pointing and social awareness: declaring and requesting in the second year. Journal of Child Language, 23, 307336. doi:10.1017/S0305000900008813
Gomez, J. (1991). Visual behavior as a window for reading the mind of others in primates. In Whiten, A. (Ed.), Natural Theories of Mind (pp. 195207). Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.
Halliday, M. (1990). Language, context and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Liebal, K., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Infants appreciate the social intention behind a pointing gesture: Commentary on “Children's understanding of communicative intentions in the middle of the second year of life” by T. Aureli, P. Perucchini, and M. Genco. Cognitive Development, 24, 1315. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2008.09.004
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Henning, A., Striano, T., & Tomasello, M. (2004). Twelve-month-olds point to share attention and interest. Developmental Science, 7, 297307. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2004.00349.x
Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Striano, T., & Tomasello, M. (2006). 12- and 18-month-olds point to provide information for others. Journal of Social Cognition and Development, 7, 173187. doi:10.1207/s15327647jcd0702_2
Mora, E., Martínez, H., & Domínguez, C., (2009). Análisis audio-perceptivo y acústico de la prosodia de las cláusulas del español venezolano [Audio-perceptive and acoustic analyses of the prosody of clauses in Venezuelan Spanish]. Opción, 25, 5469.
Muñetón, M., Ramírez, G., & Rodrigo, M. J., (2005). Estudio longitudinal de la producción de deícticos en castellano en niños de 12 a 36 meses durante las actividades cotidianas [Longitudial study of the production of diectics in spanish 1-and 2-year-old children in everyday activities]. Anuario de Psicología, 36, 315338.
Mueller, E., & Lucas, T. (1975). A developmental analysis of peer interaction among toddlers. In Lewis, M. & Rosenblum, L. A. (Eds.), Friendship and Peer Relations (pp. 223257). New York, NY: John Wiley.
Pettito, L. A. (1993). Modularity and constraints in early lexical acquisition. In Bloom, P. (Ed.), Language Acquisition (pp. 2559). New York, NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Rodrigo, M. J., González, A., de Vega, M., Muñeton-Ayala, , & Rodríguez, G. (2004). From gestural to verbal deixis: A longitudinal study with Spanish infants and toddlers. First Language, 24, 7190. doi:10.1177/0142723704041040
Rodrigo, M. J., González, A., Ato, M., Rodríguez, G., de Vega, M., & Muñeton-Ayala, M. (2005). Co-development of child–mother gestures over the second and the third years. Infant and Child Development, 14, 117. doi:10.1002/icd.412
Rogoff, B. (1989). The joint socialization of development by young children and adults. In Gellatly, A., Rogers, D., & Sloboda, J.A. (Eds.), Cognition and Social Worlds. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Rogoff, B., Malkin, C., & Gilbride, K. (1984). Interaction with babies as guidance for development. In Rogoff, B. & Wertsch, J. (Eds.), Children learning in the zone of proximal development (pp. 6576). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696735. doi:10.2307/412243
Schaffer, H. R., Collis, G. M., & Parsons, G. (1977). Vocal interchange and visual regard in verbal and pre-verbal children. In Schaffer, H. R. (Ed.), Studies in Mother-Infant Interaction (pp. 291324). London, UK: Academic Press.
Tomasello, M. (1995). Joint attention as social cognition. In Moore, C. & Dunham, P. J. (Eds.), Joint Attention: Its origins and role in development (pp. 103130). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., & Liszkowski, U. (2007). A new look at infant pointing. Child Development, 78(3), 705722.


Functions of the Pointing Gesture in Mothers and their 12 to 36-Month-Old Children during Everyday Activities

  • Mercedes Amparo Muñetón Ayala (a1) and María José Rodrigo López (a2)


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