Gestures of Simultaneous Bilingual Children in Natural Interaction: A Conversation Analytic Perspective

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
Despite the general consensus that speech and gestures are connected, there is much debate on the nature of this relationship. Part of the debate concerns the communicative power of gestures. There are two basic opposing views in this regard: the first position contends that gestures play a vital role in communication. The second opinion assumes that gestures have no communicative value pertaining that they are simple accompaniment of speech. The purpose of the present naturalistic study is then to explore the functions of simultaneous bilingual children‟s gestures in natural interactions. A qualitative naturalistic method was adopted to gather the necessary data. Six bilingual girls of 6 to 12 years of age were videotaped conversing in English while playing in the house of one of the participants. Nine out of 18 videotaped conversations were transcribed and analysed using the Conversation Analytic method. The participants‟ gestures were classified in terms of their functions; and the speech exchange in which these gestures occurred was examined. The findings revealed that gestures of simultaneous bilingual children have communicative and interactional functions. They help solve speech problems such as disambiguating speech, adding information, compensating for speech and helping with word search. They also help allocate turns at talk, draw addressees‟ attention and maintain social relations. The findings also showed that bilingual children‟s gestures are sequentially aligned with the interactants‟ responses located in the prior turns; and that these gestures not only help speakers produce comprehensible messages but also help listeners interpret the speakers‟ speech and react to it gesturally, verbally or bi-modally. Drawing attention to caution regarding generalization of its findings, this study recommends that teachers and learners consider gestures in teaching and learning. Further research opportunities based on these findings are also highlighted.
gesture, bilingual interaction, bilingual first (or second) language acquisition, speech-gesture connections