Abstract - Anna Rakovsky & Ekaterina Silva

This study examines the use of gestures in unbalanced bilinguals, i.e. bilinguals dominant in one language. In monolingual language users gesturing co-occurs with speech especially when speakers describe uncommon objects and/or they experience difficulties in retrieving a word. It was therefore hypothesized that unbalanced bilinguals would gesture more in their weak language/Russian (that is usually characterized by weakened lexical access compared to the dominant language) and while describing uncommon objects. Nineteen bilingual adults participated in an experimental task that required the labeling of pictures of common and uncommon objects. The participants were filmed. The number of gestures per second was calculated for each participant in each of the four conditions (uncommon versus common objects and weak language/Russian versus dominant language/English) and the gestural behavior was analyzed.

The results failed to support the hypotheses. There was no significant difference between a) the proportion of gesturing during the common and uncommon conditions and b) the proportion of gesturing during the English/Dominant language versus the Russian/Weak language condition. These results may come from the fact that participants spoke more in the English (common and uncommon objects) conditions and when they failed to retrieve words in the Russian (common and uncommon objects) conditions they sometimes neither spoke nor gestured. The difference between the findings and the literature on the role of gesturing in lexical retrieval by monolinguals, which is increased in the context of word retrieval problems, suggests that the role of gesturing may be different in bilinguals and monolinguals.


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