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Chapter 17. Gesture and language shift on the Uruguayan-Brazilian border

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Abstract

The linguistic phenomenon in which a prestige language variety supplants a traditional one, language shift, as well as the related phenomenon of superstratum and substratum interference, leading to mixture, have been widely studied in linguistics. Scholars, however, have not applied these linguistic theories to non-verbal communication, such as gesture. In applying these concepts to the hegemonic displacement in northern Uruguay of the traditional Portuguese variety by the national language, Spanish, this article demonstrates that gestural convention is interconnected with the linguistic outcome of language contact among these border bilinguals. Focusing on gestures that are traditionally associated with each language, the results confirm expected generalizations about gesture shift as a parallel phenomenon, while they reveal conclusions about how gesture differs from language, including the absence of gesture-switching and the phenomenon of latency, or rather, the delay in the adoption of culturally-defined paralinguistic forms when a speech community undergoes language shift.

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