Interpersonal Abilities of Infants as Generators for Transmission of Language and Culture

  • Colwyn Trevarthen
Part of the Ettore Majorana International Science Series book series (SYLI)


There have been great advances in our knowledge of communicative abilities of infants in the past decade.

A two-month-old may transmit emotional messages by facial expression, vocalization and gesture and engage in an affectional exchange with the mother by sight and sound alone. Microanalysis shows the interactions to be regulated by cognitive and motivational processes specific for interpersonal engagement. Disturbance of the maternal response leads to strong expressions of distress.

Communication develops rapidly as the infant expresses more autonomy of motives in interactions governed by humour and teasing and increasing interest in manipulation of objects. Maternal behavior changes accordingly, expanding the range of emotional color while taking up the infant’s exploratory and performatory interests.

Towards the end of the first year, game playing, which mothers ritualize in action songs and chants, is changed by the baby showing active interest in the mother’s directives and referential actions. Coventional uses of artifacts are acquired simultaneously with awareness of messages in speech.

We conclude that innate interpersonal abilities regulate and drive forward the growth of cooperative awareness and that first steps in language acquisition rest on mutual confidence. Further developments in learning retain a foundation in interpersonal skills by which interests, intentions and feelings are transmitted in infancy.


Facial Expression Young Infant Game Playing Pitch Contour Expressive Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colwyn Trevarthen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EdinburghUK

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