What happens to gestures when Italians do not speak Italian? A study of gestures on native speakers of Italian

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Speech is often accompanied by gesticulation. In communication, people often employ not only the verbal channel, but also the gestural one. Gesture and language are strongly interconnected and co-expressive, thus it has been posited that they should be regarded as two aspects of a single process. By employing the method of storytelling, the current study investigated speech-gesture production of Italian native speakers their first and second language, English. It has been suggested that the use of co-speech gesture might be different in a bilingual’s L1 and L2. Some have found an increase in gesture frequency in bilinguals’ weaker language, while others have reported that gesture frequency is higher in bilinguals’ L1. In the present study, gesture frequency was slightly higher in the L2, especially for lower proficiency speakers. Moreover, in the narrations similar iconic gestures were performed by the same speaker when narrating the same portion of the story in the two languages. However, iconic gestures produced by lower proficiency speakers in English displayed higher degrees of iconicity compared to the coupled Italian gesture. Theories and implications are discussed.
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