Early Pragmatics in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants

Ciara Kelly, Gary Morgan, Colin Bannard, Danielle Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: A set of important pragmatic skills emerge during infancy and pave the way for later language learning. It is thought these early social communication skills develop through infant-caregiver interaction. In a microanalysis, we tested whether deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) infants (typically at high risk of reduced access to rich communicative interaction in infancy) are less likely to engage in gestural and vocal pragmatic behaviors. METHODS: We coded the naturalistic communication of 8 DHH infants who had no additional needs, who were not preterm or low birth weight, whose parents were hearing, monolingual English speakers, and who had spoken English as their primary target language. The frequency of use of 5 types of infant communication known to positively predict later language development (show gestures, give gestures, index-finger pointing, communicative vocalizations, and early word use) was compared with that of 8 typically hearing infants matched for age, sex, and socioeconomic status. RESULTS: Hearing loss had a significant negative effect on the frequency with which infants engaged in all types of early communication that predict later language development. CONCLUSIONS: DHH infants are at high risk of delay in the gestural and vocal communicative skills that lay the foundations for later language. Delay in the gestural domain suggests this is not simply a consequence of difficulties in imitating auditory stimuli. There is significant potential to lift DHH infants onto a positive developmental trajectory by supporting caregivers to nurture interaction from the first year.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0242E
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


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