Toddlers can gauge your politeness

Barcelona: As children in their earlier stages of life express themselves through their facial expressions and gestures, they tend to understand the politeness of a speaker in the same way, suggests a study. Gesture and prosody play an important role in the development of children's communication skills. Studies have traditionally focused rather on the role played by these elements in the early acquisition of lexical and morphosyntactic elements and less at older ages when children use prosody and gesture to express pragmatic meanings such as politeness.

“Despite evidence that children are sensitive to facial gestures and prosody for detecting emotions until now there was conflicting evidence as to whether preschool children use these cues to deduce speakers' politeness”, said the pioneer researcher Pilar Prieto. The results of the study show that children of age three can recognize politeness through such prosodic cues as intonation, visual cues such as facial expressions, and the two together, and most importantly, unlike previous studies, the study shows that both intonation and facial expression are equally strong signals to make children understand the polite stance of a speaker.

“This has implications for parents, carers and preschool teachers because it suggests gaining awareness of children's social and pragmatic behavior, which often only focuses on verbal content”, highlights the principal investigator of the study.

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