Two Perspectives on Pointing in Infancy
University of Montreal
In the mid- 1970s, infant psychologists began to verify empirically the existence of a relationship between early pointing gestures and the acquisition of language. Elizabeth Bates ( Bates, Camaioni, & Volterra, 1975) was a pioneer in interpreting the different pointing gestures produced during infancy in terms of Austin's concept of speech acts. Since then, many researchers have worked within this perspective in order to support or to restrict its validity. In the first part of this chapter, results regarding the relationship between early production of pointing and later language development are presented. In addition, the possibility of a link between the comprehension of pointing and language is investigated.
Recently, other researchers have also become interested in the production of pointing inasmuch as it may represent the beginning of a theory of mind in infancy. Wellman ( 1990, 1993) and Moore and colleagues ( Barresi & Moore, 1994; Moore, 1992; Moore & Corkum, in press) tried to define the moment at which an infant produces a pointing gesture for the purpose of orienting another person toward an object of interest. This capacity is believed to be important because it involves an implicit notion of "intentionality," a fundamental characteristic of mental states according to Searle ( 1983) and Fodor ( 1985). In the second part of this chapter, we explore this new perspective on the production of pointing and present some results regarding the infant's increasing ability to relate the mother to an external object or event from 12 to 18 months.