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Şeyda Özçalışkan

Associate Professor    

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2003


Gesture’s contribution to language and cognitive development in different learners and different languages


My research focuses on children’s earliest linguistic and cognitive abilities as they reveal themselves both in speech and in gesture. Specifically, I ask whether and how children’s gestures can inform us about language development, from the onset of first words and first sentences to the emergence of first narratives and explanations. My current interests are reflected in two main lines of research: (1) whether gesture constitutes a robust aspect of the language-learning process, remaining preserved across different learners (children with blindness, deafness, autism, Down syndrome, monolinguals, bilinguals), and (2) whether gesture shows the language-specific patterns found in children’s speech, varying systematically across structurally different languages (English, Spanish, Turkish). Following these two lines of inquiry, I seek to understand the process of language development and how gesture serves as part of the mechanism of change in this process as either reflecting underlying knowledge or helping children take the next development step.


Özçalışkan, Ş., Adamson, L. B., Dimitrova, N., & Baumann, S. (2017). Early gesture provides a helping hand to spoken vocabulary development for children with autism, Down syndrome and typical development. Journal of Cognition and Development, 18(3), 325-337.

Özçalışkan, Ş., Lucero, C. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2016). Is seeing gesture necessary to gesture like a native speaker? Psychological Science, 27(5), 737-747.

Özçalışkan, Ş. (2016). Do gestures follow speech in bilinguals’ description of motion? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19(3), 644-653.

Özçalışkan, Ş., Goldin-Meadow, S., Gentner, D. & Mylander, C.  (2009). Does language about similarity foster similarity comparisons in children? Cognition, 112(2), 217-228.

Özçalışkan, Ş. (2007). Metaphors we ‘move by’: Children’s developing understanding of metaphorical motion in typologically distinct languages. Metaphor and Symbol, 22(2), 147-168.

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