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The Handbook of Lifespan Communication


Jon F. Nussbaum

The Handbook of Lifespan Communication is the foundational scholarly text that offers readers a state of the art view of the varied and rich areas of lifespan communication research. The fundamental assumptions of lifespan communication are that the very nature of human communication is developmental, and, to truly understand communication, change across time must be incorporated into existing theory and research. Beginning with chapters on lifespan communication theory and methodologies, chapters are then organized into the various phases of life: early childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, middle adulthood, and older adulthood. Top scholars across several disciplines have contributed to chapters within their domains of expertise, highlighting significant horizons that will guide researchers for years to come.
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Chapter Three: Communication Development: Distributed Across People, Resources, and Time


Distributed Across People, Resources, and Time


Note: The authors contributed equally to this chapter.

Communication, the cornerstone of human relationships, develops long before young children begin to master a linguistic code. Definitions of communication vary, ranging from all human behavior to specification of conventional forms. For the purposes of this chapter, we refer to communication as the intentional exchange of ideas across individuals, including both verbal and nonverbal behavior (cf. Ciccia, Step, & Turkstra, 2003; Haslett & Samter, 1997). As such, speech and language can serve as powerful resources for communicative purposes, but are not themselves synonymous with communication. Speech refers to the sensory-motor process of talking, whereas language encompasses the cognitive-linguistic conventions of vocabulary, grammar, and phonology. Neither is sufficient in understanding the rich landscape of social interaction. Take, for example, the 6-month-old infant who is repeating “dadada” while in his crib. Such babbling represents the early sensory-motor building blocks of speech, but is not communicating until someone receives the babble and attributes meaning to it. As such, communication is always dependent upon receipt and interpretation by others (i.e., distributed across people). Similarly, the interpretation of “dadada” is shaped by additional resources and aspects of the environment (i.e., distributed across resources). For example, whether the infant is looking up at his dad or down at the dog on the floor is likely to affect how the message is taken up. Nonverbal resources, such as gesture, eye...

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