Bilingual Gestures: The "Manual" Way of Informing the Notion of 'Balanced Bilinguals'
Defining what makes a person bilingual is notoriously difficult and dependent on various factors like fluency, age of acquisition, and situational context, among others. The notion of a `balanced bilingual' is even more elusive and fraught with limitations regarding the proper assessment and linguistic profiling of bilinguals, leading to different categorizations of what constitutes a `balanced bilingual' among researchers. The present study attempted to address this issue by drawing on other, non-verbal clues provided by bilingual speakers: their gestures. Studies have shown that speakers of languages that are typologically different (see Talmy, 1985) tend to gesture in distinct patterns when describing motion events (see, e.g., Kellerman & VanHoof, 2003; Kita & Özyürek, 2003; McNeill & Duncan, 2000). These patterns have been found to be highly resistant to change when acquiring a typologically distinct language (see Gullberg, de Bot, & Volterra, 2008).This study took a qualitative look at the gestures produced by nine bilingual speakers of English and Spanish when narrating motion events in both languages. The goal of this research was to examine the gestural behavior of balanced bilinguals, to determine to what extent - if any - their gesture patterns can be compared to those that have been suggested for monolinguals as well as L2 learners based on the available literature, and to see what these patterns can reveal about the cognitive processes underlying the speech and gesture production of these bilinguals. A detailed analysis of the speech and gesture patterns of all participants revealed several trends that - despite considerable individual variation - set the group of balanced bilinguals apart from what we currently know about English and Spanish monolinguals, as well as L2 learners. Gesture patterns were predominantly in sync with the typological patterns used in speech, yet there was also evidence of a blended "hybrid" system, which - often by means of subtle differences in the timing and alignment of gestures - allowed speakers access to a wider variety of gesture patterns than would otherwise be the case. In many instances, gestures provided valuable insights into how motion events were conceptualized, which speech alone would have been unable to convey.
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