A helping hand? Gestures, L2 learners, and grammar

Gullberg, M. (2008). A helping hand? Gestures, L2 learners, and grammar. In S. G. McCafferty, & G. Stam (Eds.), Gesture: Second language acquisition and classroom research (pp. 185-210). New York: Routledge.
This chapter explores what L2 learners' gestures reveal about L2 grammar. The focus is on learners’ difficulties with maintaining reference in discourse caused by their incomplete mastery of pronouns. The study highlights the systematic parallels between properties of L2 speech and gesture, and the parallel effects of grammatical development in both modalities. The validity of a communicative account of interlanguage grammar in this domain is tested by taking the cohesive properties of the gesture-speech ensemble into account. Specifically, I investigate whether learners use gestures to compensate for and to license over-explicit reference in speech. The results rule out a communicative account for the spoken variety of maintained reference. In contrast, cohesive gestures are found to be multi-functional. While the presence of cohesive gestures is not communicatively motivated, their spatial realisation is. It is suggested that gestures are exploited as a grammatical communication strategy to disambiguate speech wherever possible, but that they may also be doing speaker-internal work. The methodological importance of considering L2 gestures when studying grammar is also discussed.
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