​​Communicative Development Inventories​

​​Development of CDIs for all South African languages​​

Our flagship project is the collaborative development of Communicative Development Inventories (CDIs) for all official South African languages. We have involved organisations across South Africa, including: University of ​​Cape Town, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, North-West University, University of Limpopo, University of the Free State, Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga​, and ECD NGOs.


There is a lack of valid and reliable tools to measure typical ​​development and diagnose language delays in African languages. These cannot be developed without establishing the stages of language acquisition. Creating a locally relevant set of tools requires more than just translation of existing English tools.


It is essential that we establish norms for language de​​velopment in early childhood. CDIs are parent report instruments that ask parents/caregivers to report on a child’s use of gestures, words and sentences. CDIs can measure language development from 8 months to 30 months. They are reliable and valid overall indicators of communicative development.


There are CDIs for over 100 languages worldwide. These are used to identify stages in language development and establish national norms. Data from the CDI have formed the basis for developing linguis​​tic and cognitive assessment and diagnostic tools in many countries.


Tools such as CDIs are suitable for cont​exts in which children are not used to clinical testing. Data are elicited in a culturally appropriate manner using information from parents/caregivers.


Collecting information about children involves going out to different communities and working with local ECD practitioners and their children’s caregivers to gather information on language deve​​​lopment.​



The Picture Naming Game

Adapting the PiNG

The aim of this project is to adapt and s​​​​tandardize the Picture Naming Game (PiNG) (Bello et al. 2012), a tool to assess lexical abilities in children from 24 to 36 months, for all South African languages. This tool will allow us to assess the receptive and expressive lexicon of young children and to determine, along with other measurements, whether a child is a later talker or may have a language disorder. The PiNG tool is a child friendly and culturally appropriate method of assessment for our context.

Gesture and Language Development

This research investigates gesture and language development in early (8-36 months) and later childhood (5 -12 years) in African languages. We are exploring how gesture supports early language acquisition, the relationship between action, gesture and speech and how the nature of gestures changes during this early period. In later childhood we look​​​ at how gesture and discursive abilities in narratives develop towards abstraction and how other dimensions of gesture production such as the load of gestural information in the bimodal utterance and the chaining of gestures across utterances develop. The research includes a comparative component examining the effects of linguistic and cultural constraints on multimodal language production comparing languages in the Romance and Bantu language families. This comparative component is a collaboration between two European research teams from Rome, Italy (GLADD Lab, ISTC-CNR) and Grenoble, France (Lidilem Lab, University of Grenoble Alpes).

Thinking for Speaking: Learning a Second Language

This project investigates how second language (L2) speakers, from 9 to 12 years of age, whose mother tongues are isiXhosa and Sesotho develop Thinking For Speaking (TFS) patterns in their second language, English. The aim of this project is to establish whether focused and systematic explicit instruction in L2 TFS promotes a full shift from L1 to L2 TFS ​that encompasses the ability to appropriately express, in speech and in gesture, path and manner of motion in the new language? Do speakers of a Verb-framed L1 (isiXhosa and Sesotho), through instruction, acquire the TFS patterns of a Satellite-framed L2 (English)? Does explicit instruction in the distinction between simple and fine-grained verbs in English, an S-language, result in a shift in TFS patterns of L1 V-languages? Are there differences between learners of an L2 S-language that can be attributed to intra-typological differences between L1 V-languages—that is, following explicit instruction, do learners whose L1 is Sesotho or isiXhosa show any differences in TFS performance between one another? Our aim is to produce evidence-based pedagogic interventions that qualitatively improve language learning in South Africa.


This work is a collaborative project with Professor Gale Stam at National Louis University in Chicago.

Bello, A., Giannatoni, P., Pettenati, P., Stefanini, S., & Caselli, M. C. (2012). Assessing lexicon: Validation and developmental data of the Picture Naming Game (PiNG), a new picture naming task for toddlers. International Journal of Communication and Language Disorders, 47, 589–602.​​​