Innovation and Enculturation in Child Communication: A Cross-Sectional Study

C. J. Lister, B. Walker, N. Fay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


How can people achieve successful communication when using novel signs? Previous studies show that iconic signs (i.e. signs that directly resemble their referent) enhance communication success. In this paper, we test if enculturated signs (i.e. signs informed by interlocutors' shared culture) also enhance communication success. Children, who have spent less time in their linguistic community, have less cultural knowledge to inform their sign innovation. A natural prediction is that younger children's signs will be less enculturated, more diverse and less successful compared with older children and adults. We examined sign innovation in children aged between 6 and 12 years (N = 54) and adults (N = 18). Sign enculturation, diversity and iconicity were rated. As predicted, younger children innovated less enculturated and more diverse signs, and communicated less successfully than older children and adults. Sign enculturation and iconicity uniquely contributed to communication success. This is the first study to demonstrate that enculturated signs enhance communication.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEvolutionary Human Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2020


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