Abstract

One-year-old infants have a small receptive vocabulary and follow deictic gestures, but it is still debated whether they appreciate the referential nature of these signals. Demonstrating understanding of the complementary roles of symbolic (word) and indexical (pointing) reference provides evidence of referential interpretation of communicative signals. We presented 13-month-old infants with video sequences of an actress indicating the position of a hidden object while naming it. The infants looked longer when the named object was revealed not at the location indicated by the actress's gestures, but on the opposite side of the display. This finding suggests that infants expect that concurrently occurring communicative signals co-refer to the same object. Another group of infants, who were shown video sequences in which the naming and the deictic cues were provided concurrently but by two different people, displayed no evidence of expectation of co-reference. These findings suggest that a single communicative source, and not simply co-occurrence, is required for mapping the two signals onto each other. By 13 months of age, infants appreciate the referential nature of words and deictic gestures alike.