Ethnic differences in mother-infant language and gestural communications are associated with specific skills in infants

Catherine S. Tamis-Lemonda, Lulu Song, Ashley Smith Leavell, Ronit Kahana-Kalman, Hirokazu Yoshikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We examined gestural and verbal interactions in 226 mother-infant pairs from Mexican, Dominican, and African American backgrounds when infants were 14 months and 2 years of age, and related these interactions to infants' emerging skills. At both ages, dyads were video-recorded as they shared a wordless number book, a wordless emotion book, and beads and string. We coded mothers' and infants' gestures and language/vocalizations. Each maternal utterance was coded as referential (e.g. 'That's a bead') or regulatory (e.g. 'Put it there'). Mothers reported on infants' gestural, receptive, and productive vocabularies at 14 months, and infants were assessed on receptive language, expressive language, and action sequencing and imitation at 2 years of age. Mothers of the three ethnicities differed in their gesturing, distributions of the two types of language, and coupling of language and gestures. Mothers' ethnicity, language, and gestures were differentially associated with infants' 2-year skills. Mother-infant communicative interactions are foundational to infant learning and development, and ethnic differences in modes of early communication portend divergent pathways in the development of specific skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-397
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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