Papers from the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology Conferences

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This study1 is part of a large-scale cross-cultural research project on the development of spatial language and cognition, in India, Indonesia and Nepal, that focuses on a culturally particular way of organizing small-scale, table space, using a large-scale geocentric spatial orientation system (Dasen & Mishra, in preparation). One of the main questions is at what age this geocentric frame of reference starts to be effective. The study of language development does not provide a clear answer, because young children (ages 4 to 7) use ambiguous “deictic” descriptions, i.e., they just say “this way” accompanied by a gesture. Can these gestures be used to clarify the meaning of language? To answer this question, 234 video recordings of Nepalese children performing the “Perspectives” task (in which they have to describe the location of three objects placed on a table in front of them, under three different conditions) were analyzed separately for both language and gestures. The results show a good correspondence between language and gestures in 9 to 12 year olds. This allows us to interpret further the frame of reference used by the younger children. Out of 367 items on which young children (4 to 9 years) give an ambiguous deictic answer, only 17% are accompanied with an egocentric gesture, and 83% with a geocentric one (combining 48% large gestures linked to the use of cardinal directions, and 35% medium-large gestures linked to the use of situational local landmarks). This shows that a geocentric frame is at play as early as age 4, even when the child cannot express it clearly in the language.

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