Developmental perspectives on the expression of motion in speech and gesture

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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 in speech (Slobin 1996, 2004) and co-verbal gestures (Duncan 2005; Kita & Özyurek 2003; McNeill 1992). Although such findings suggest cross-linguistic differences in the expression of events, 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 animated cartoons. The results show that English adults conflate Manner+Path in speech more often than French adults who frequently talk about Path only. Both groups gesture mainly about Path only, but English adults also conflate Manner+Path into single gestures, whereas French adults never do so. Children in both languages are predominantly adult-like in speech and gesture from age four on, but also display developmental progressions with increasing age. Finally, speech and gestures are predominantly co-expressive in both language groups and at all ages. When modalities differ, English adults typically provide less information in gesture (Path) than in speech (Manner+Path; ‘Manner modulation’ phenomenon), whereas French adults express complementary information in speech (Manner) and gesture (Path). The discussion highlights theoretical implications of such bi-modal analyses for acquisition and gesture studies


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