Developmental perspectives on the expression of motion in speech and gesture. A comparison of French and English

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Recent research shows that adult speakers of verb- vs. satellite-framed languages (Talmy, 2000) express motion events in language-specific ways as reflected not only in speech (Slobin 2004) but also in gestures (Duncan 2005; Kita & McNeill 1992; Özyurek 2003). Although such findings suggest crosslinguistic differences in event representations, little is still known about their implications for first language acquisition. This paper examines how French and English adults and children (ages four and six) express Path and Manner in speech and gesture when describing voluntary motion presented in the form of animated cartoons. English adults show more Manner+Path conflation in speech than French adults who frequently also talk about Path only. Both groups gesture mainly about Path only, but English adults also conflate Manner+Path into single gestures, while French adults never do so. Children in both languages predominantly display adult-like speech and gesture from age four on, despite developmental progressions suggesting that they get further attuned to the adult pattern with increasing age. Finally, speech and gestures are predominantly co-expressive in both language groups and at all ages. However, when modalities differ, English adults typically provide less information in gesture (Path) than in speech (Manner+Path; ‘Manner modulation’), whereas French adults express complementary information in speech (Manner) and gesture (Path). Again, children develop language-specific adult preferences only gradually. The discussion highlights theoretical implications of such bi-modal analyses for acquisition and gesture studies, raising further questions concerning the distribution of cross-modal information and the nature of gesture-speech integration.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • English, French, motion, gesture, multimodality, speech-gesture co-expressivity, typology, acquisition, space
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-156
JournalLanguage, Interaction and Acquisition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Humanities Lab (015101200), Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

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