ERG SES B, Keynote
What are the developmental origins of humans’ sophisticated ability to recognize and interpret ostensive communicative actions of others? Ostensive communication is a species-unique form of epistemic cooperation that relies on specialized ostensive-referential behavioral signals (such as words and non-verbal deictic gestures like pointing) to encode the relevant informative and referential intentions of communicative agents. When interpreting others’ ostensive communicative actions humans employ context-sensitive pragmatic inferences to recover the relevant informative intentions behind the other agent’s communicative actions in the particular context.
I shall summarize recent evidence from Natural Pedagogy theory (Csibra &, Gergely, 2009, 2013) showing that several key aspects of humans’ special adaptedness to engage in and interpret ostensive referential communication is already present in young preverbal infants. In particular, infants show evolved sensitivity to detect and interpret certain ostensive behavioral signals as indicating communicative agency and communicative intention such as eye-contact, or being addressed by infant-directed speech (motherese). Such ostensive cues allow young infants to recognize the other’s behavioral acts as communicative actions, trigger the assignment of communicative agency, and activate a referential interpretation of the agent’s subsequent orientational responses (such as object-oriented gaze-shift or pointing gesture). Ostensive signals also induce in infants a presumption about the relevance, genericity, and sharedness of kind-relevant information that is ostensively manifested about the referent.
Finally, I shall present new experimental evidence demonstrating that when observing novel behavioral interactions between unfamiliar agents from a 3rd-person perspective, 10- and 13-month-old infants can detect and rely on the abstract pattern of turn-taking contingent reactivity at a distance as a diagnostic cue to interpret the interaction as involving ostensive communicative information transfer. The results indicate that preverbal infants’ show evolved sensitivity to a number of non-verbal ostensive behavioral cues that allow them to recognize communicative actions and that induce context-sensitive pragmatic mindreading inferences to identify the intended referent and to infer the intended informative content conveyed by the communicative exchange.
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