Abstract

Human infants are involved in communicative interactions with others well before they start to speak or understand language. It is generally thought that this communication is useful for establishing interpersonal relations and supporting joint activities, but, in the absence of symbolic functions that language provides, these early communicative contexts do not allow infants to learn about the world. However, recent studies suggest that when someone demonstrates something using an object as the medium of instruction, infants can conceive the object as an exemplar of the whole class of objects of the same kind. Thus, an object, just like a word, can play the role of a symbol that stands for something else than itself, and infants can learn general knowledge about a kind of object from non-verbal communication about a single item of that kind. This rudimentary symbolic capacity may be one of the roots of the development of symbolic understanding in children.