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Effects of gesture and motion type on word learning in Spanish

Samantha N. Emerson, Şeyda Özçalışkan, Gwen Frishkoff (Georgia SU), & Iria G. Romay-Fernández (Santiago de Compostela)

Friday, May 18th
Buchanan A201

Languages use different typological strategies to express different aspects of motion events. For example, Spanish typically expresses path of motion in the verb, while English expresses path information outside the verb (e.g., particles, prepositions) and uses verbs to express manner of motion (Talmy, 1985). In addition, Spanish speakers tend to produce a higher number of expressions conveying path of motion and relatively few conveying manner of motion (Özçalışkan & Slobin, 1999; Slobin, 2004). Interestingly, gestures that accompany motion descriptions show a similar pattern of crosslinguistic variation (Kita & Özyürek, 2003). Together, these findings led us to predict that Spanish speakers would be less successful in learning new words that express manner of motion as compared with path of motion. In the present study, we asked whether Spanish speakers would likewise tend to learn and retain new motion words in a way that conforms with the lexicalization of motion in Spanish. In particular, we asked whether Spanish speakers would show different patterns of learning for different motion types (path vs. manner) and, if so, whether this sensitivity would be affected by the modality in which these words were presented (speech-only vs. speech+gesture).

To address these questions we analyzed data from 117 native Spanish speakers (in Santiago, Spain) using a novel word-learning paradigm. Each participant viewed repeated blocks of animations that depicted either different manners (e.g., rolling, twisting; manner group) or different paths (e.g., upward, downward; path group). After each animation, half of the participants in each group saw a training video in which a man stated a novel word for the motion just shown (e.g., ‘derlu’; speech-only condition); the other half saw the same man stating a novel word while producing an iconic gesture depicting the motion (e.g., ‘derlu’+move finger rapidly in circles; gesture+speech condition). Participant learning was assessed in a forced-choice task at the end of each block during training, and retention was assessed one week later (delayed posttest).

Our results showed a main effect of motion type (manner, path; F(1, 113)=62.03, p < .001, ηp 2=.354 ) across test blocks 1-to-4 (Fig.1). By contrast, there was no effect of modality (speech-only, gesture+speech; F(1, 113)=0.65, ns). Posttest analysis compared performance immediately after training (end of block 4) and one week later. This analysis revealed similar patterns: there was an effect of motion type (F(1, 89)=22.98, p < .001, ηp 2=.205), but not modality (F(1, 89)=0.24, ns). In particular, Spanish speakers were more likely to learn and retain verbal labels for motions that referred to path versus manner variations. Further, performance did not differ as a function of training modality (speech-only vs. gesture+speech conditions). Overall, these results suggest that Spanish speakers are better able to learn and to retain novel words that express path as opposed to manner information, consistent with lexicalization patterns in Spanish. We discuss possible implications for motion word learning in second language acquisition.

(See the attached PDF for figures)


Özçalışkan, Ş. & Slobin, D. I. (1999). Learning ‘how to search for the frog’: Expression of manner of motion in English, Spanish and Turkish. In A. Greenhill, H. Littlefield & C. Tano (Eds.), Proceedings of the 23rd Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 541-552). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Kita, S. & Özyürek, A. (2003). What does crosslinguistic variation in semantic coordination of speech and gesture reveal? Evidence for an interface representation of spatial thinking and speaking. Journal of Memory and Language, 48(1), 16-32.

Slobin, D. I. (2004). Verbalized events: A dynamic approach to linguistic relativity and determinism. In S. Niemeier & Dirven (Eds.), Evidence for linguistic relativity (pp. 107-138).

Talmy, L. (1985). Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen (Ed.), Language typology and lexical description: Vol. 3. Grammatical categories and the lexicon (pp. 57-149). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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