Gesture as a communication strategy in second language discourse: A study of learners of French and Swedish

Gullberg, M. (1998). Gesture as a communication strategy in second language discourse: A study of learners of French and Swedish. Lund: Lund University Press.
Gestures are often regarded as the most typical compensatory device used by language learners in communicative trouble. Yet gestural solutions to communicative problems have rarely been studied within any theory of second language use. The work pre­sented in this volume aims to account for second language learners’ strategic use of speech-associated gestures by combining a process-oriented framework for communi­cation strategies with a cognitive theory of gesture. Two empirical studies are presented. The production study investigates Swedish lear­ners of French and French learners of Swedish and their use of strategic gestures. The results, which are based on analyses of both individual and group behaviour, contradict popular opinion as well as theoretical assumptions from both fields. Gestures are not primarily used to replace speech, nor are they chiefly mimetic. Instead, learners use gestures with speech, and although they do exploit mimetic gestures to solve lexical problems, they also use more abstract gestures to handle discourse-related difficulties and metalinguistic commentary. The influence of factors such as proficiency, task, culture, and strategic competence on gesture use is discussed, and the oral and gestural strategic modes are compared. In the evaluation study, native speakers’ assessments of learners’ gestures, and the potential effect of gestures on evaluations of proficiency are analysed and discussed in terms of individual communicative style. Compensatory gestures function at multiple communicative levels. This has implica­tions for theories of communication strategies, and an expansion of the existing frameworks is discussed taking both cognitive and interactive aspects into account.
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