Science Says Babies Sync Their Babbling and Pointing Earlier Than We Thought

A new study looks at how and when babies develop the ability to coordinate their speech and gestures, and the results are a bit surprising.

Parents Babble Pointing Baby
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Raise your hand if you've ever felt a little silly engaging in baby talk with your little one. I mean, I'd be pretty embarrassed if someone, somehow, videotaped me babbling with my baby in the privacy of my own home. Especially given the funny faces and over-exaggerated hand motions I employ during our "conversations."

But now a new study, "The Interrelation of Gestures and Vocalization in Early Communication Functions: Evidence from Basque Language," out of University of the Basque Country and published in the linguistics journal Signos, finds that when babies themselves start to jabber and gesticulate, it's kind of a big deal.

"We have discovered that when a baby abandons the characteristic babbling for vocalizations of repeated, long chains of syllables at 9 months and starts the more complex pre-language phase around 11 months, his/her gestures begin to be produced mainly in combination with vocal production rather than as an act of gestures alone," researcher Asier Romero says, according to Science Daily. "In other words, the gestural and speech system are already closely related."

Think about the first time your baby pointed and grunted at something he or she wanted. Both the "speech" and the gesture indicate an important milestone in your child's communication.

To prove that language and gestures of babies are related, researchers recorded two babies born into Basque-speaking families from 9 months through 13 months. A total of 1,260 speech acts were captured on video.

Romero says this "pioneering" work could help to predict language differences in specific language disorders.

It also proves that as parents, we needn't feel silly babbling and wildly gesturing with our babies—because after all, we are likely helping them lay the groundwork for the coordinated communication they'll employ for the rest of their lives.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.

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