Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-lb7rp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-14T20:19:14.969Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Second language acquisition of American Sign Language influences co-speech gesture production

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2019

Jill Weisberg*
Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience, San Diego State University
Shannon Casey
Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience, San Diego State University
Zed Sevcikova Sehyr
Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience, San Diego State University
Karen Emmorey
Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience, San Diego State University
Address for correspondence: Jill Weisberg, E-mail:


Previous work indicates that 1) adults with native sign language experience produce more manual co-speech gestures than monolingual non-signers, and 2) one year of ASL instruction increases gesture production in adults, but not enough to differentiate them from non-signers. To elucidate these effects, we asked early ASL–English bilinguals, fluent late second language (L2) signers (≥ 10 years of experience signing), and monolingual non-signers to retell a story depicted in cartoon clips to a monolingual partner. Early and L2 signers produced manual gestures at higher rates compared to non-signers, particularly iconic gestures, and used a greater variety of handshapes. These results indicate susceptibility of the co-speech gesture system to modification by extensive sign language experience, regardless of the age of acquisition. L2 signers produced more ASL signs and more handshape varieties than early signers, suggesting less separation between the ASL lexicon and the co-speech gesture system for L2 signers.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alferink, I (2015) Dimensions of convergence in bilingual speech and gesture. Utrecht, The Netherlands: LOT.Google Scholar
Alferink, I and Gullberg, M (2014) French-Dutch bilinguals do not maintain obligatory semantic distinctions: Evidence from placement verbs. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 17, 2237. Scholar
Allen, S, Özyürek, A, Sotaro, K, Brown, A, Furman, R, Ishizuka, T and Fujii, M (2007) Language-specific and universal influences in children's syntactic packaging of manner and path: A comparison of English, Japanese, and Turkish. Cognition 102, 1648. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2005.12.006CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Baker, A and Van den Bogaerde, B (2008) Code-mixing in signs and words in input to and output from children. In Plaza Pust, C and Morales Lopez, E (eds), Sign bilingualism: language development, interaction, and maintenance in sign language contact Situations. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 127.Google Scholar
Bishop, M (2010) Happen can't hear: An analysis of code-blends in hearing, native signers of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 11, 205240. doi:10.1353/sls.2010.0007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brentari, D (1998) A prosodic model of sign language phonology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Brown, A (2008) Gesture viewpoint in Japanese and English. Gesture 8, 256276. doi: 10.1075/gest.8.2.08broGoogle Scholar
Brown, A and Gullberg, M (2008) Bidirectional crosslinguistic influence in L1-L2 encoding of manner in speech and gesture – A study of Japanese speakers of English. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 30, 225251. doi:10.1017/s0272263108080327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Casey, S and Emmorey, K (2009) Co-speech gesture in bimodal bilinguals. Language and Cognitive Processes 24, 290312. doi:10.1080/01690960801916188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Casey, S, Emmorey, K and Larrabee, H (2012) The effects of learning American Sign Language on co-speech gesture. Bilingualism-Language and Cognition 15, 677686. doi:10.1017/s1366728911000575CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cavicchio, F and Kita, S (2013) Bilinguals Switch Gesture Production Parameters when they Switch Languages. Proceedings of the Tilburg Gesture Research Meeting Tilburg University, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
Choi, S and Lantolf, JP (2008) The representation and embodiment of meaning in L2 communication: Motion events in the speech and gesture of advanced L2 Korean and L2 English speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 30 , 191224. Scholar
Christoffels, IK, Firk, C and Schiller, NO (2007) Bilingual language control: An event-related brain potential study. Brain Research 1147, 192208. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2007.01.137CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cohen, RL and Borsoi, DJ (1996) The role of gestures in description-communication: A cross-sectional study of aging. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 20, 4563. Scholar
Dijkstra, T, Grainger, J and van Heuven, WJB (1999) Recognition of cognates and interlingual homographs: The neglected role of phonology. Journal of Memory and Language 41, 496518. doi: 10.1006/jmla.1999.2654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eccarius, P and Brentari, D (2007) Symmetry and dominance: A cross-linguistic study of signs and classifier constructions. Lingua 117, 11691201. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2005.04.006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Emmorey, K, Borinstein, HB and Thompson, R (2005) Bimodal bilingualism: Code-blending between spoken English and American Sign Language. In Cohen, J, McAlister, K, Rolstad, K and MacSwan, J (eds), Proceedings of the 4th international symposium on bilingualism. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, pp. 663673.Google Scholar
Emmorey, K, Borinstein, HB, Thompson, R and Gollan, TH (2008) Bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11, 4361. doi: 10.1017/S1366728907003203CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Emmorey, K and Kosslyn, S (1996) Enhanced image generation abilities in deaf signers: A right hemisphere effect. Brain and Cognition 32, 2844. doi: 10.1006/brcg.1996.0056CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Emmorey, K, Kosslyn, SM and Bellugi, U (1993) Visual imagery and visual-spatial language: Enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers. Cognition 46, 139181.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Feyereisen, P and Havard, I (1999) Mental imagery and production of hand gestures while speaking in younger and older adults. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 23, 153171. Scholar
Giezen, MR, Blumenfeld, H, Shook, A, Marian, V and Emmorey, K (2015) Parallel language activation and inhibitory control in bimodal bilinguals. Cognition 141, 925. ScholarPubMed
Gu, Y, Zheng, Y and Swerts, M (2018) Having a different pointing of view about the future: The effect of signs on co-speech gestures about time in Mandarin-CSL bimodal bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. doi:10.1017/S1366728918000652Google Scholar
Gullberg, M (2006) Some reasons for studying gesture and second language acquisition (Hommage à Adam Kendon). IRAL-International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 44(2), 103124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hostetter, AB and Alibali, MW (2008) Visible embodiment: Gestures as simulated action. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 15, 495514.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kellerman, E and van Hoof, A-M (2003) Manual accents. International Review of Applied Linguistics 41, 251269. Scholar
Laurent, A and Nicoladis, E (2015) Gesture restriction affects French-English bilinguals' speech only in French. Bilingualism-Language and Cognition 18, 340349. doi:10.1017/s1366728914000042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McNeill, D (1992) Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thoughts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
Meade, G, Midgley, K, Sevcikova Sehyr, Z, Holcomb, P and Emmorey, K (2017) Implicit co-activation of American Sign Language in deaf readers: An ERP study. Brain and Language 170, 5061. Scholar
Morford, JP, Wilkinson, E, Villwock, A, Pinar, P and Kroll, JF (2011) When deaf signers read English: Do written words activate their sign translations? Cognition 118, 286292. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.11.006CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Naughton, K (1996) Spontaneous gesture and sign: A study of ASL signs co-occurring with speech. (Masters), California State University, Northridge.Google Scholar
Negueruela, E, Lantolf, JP, Rehn Jordan, S and Gelabert, J (2004) The “private function” of gesture in second language speaking activity: A study of motion verbs and gesturing in English and Spanish. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 14, 113147. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-4192.2004.00056.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nicoladis, E (2004) The effect of bilingualism on the use of manual gestures. Applied Psycholinguistics 28, 441454. doi: 10.1017.S0142716407070245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ortega, G (2013) Acquisition of a signed phonological system by hearing adults: The Role of sign structure and iconcity. Doctoral dissertation, University College London.Google Scholar
Ortega, G and Ozyurek, A (2013) Gesture-sign interface in hearing non-signers' first exposure to sign. Paper presented at the Tilburg Gesture Research Meeting.Google Scholar
Ortega, G and Morgan, G (2015a) Phonological development in hearing learners of a sign language: The influence of phonological parameters, sign complexity, and iconicity. Language Learning 65, 660688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ortega, G and Morgan, G (2015b) Input processing at first exposure to a sign language. Second Language Research 0267658315576822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Özçalişkan, Ş (2016) Do gestures follow speech in bilinguals’ description of motion? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 19, 644653. Scholar
Petitto, LA, Katerelos, M, Levy, BG, Gauna, K, Tetreault, K and Ferraro, V (2001) Bilingual signed and spoken language acquisition from birth: implications for the mechanisms underlying early bilingual language acquisition. Journal of Child Language 28, 453496.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pyers, J and Emmorey, K (2008) The face of bimodal bilingualism: ASL grammatical facial expressions are produced when bilinguals speak to English monolinguals. Psychological Science 19, 531535. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02119.xCrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Smithson, L, Nicoladis, E and Marentette, P (2011) Bilingual children's gesture use. Gesture 11, 330347. doi:10.1075/gest.11.3.04smiCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Theocharopoulou, F, Cocks, N, Pring, T and Dipper, LT (2015) TOT phenomena: Gesture production in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging. 30, 245–52. doi: 10.1037/a0038913CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Van Assche, E, Duyck, W and Gollan, TH (2013) Whole-Language and Item-Specific Control in Bilingual Language Production. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Learning Memory and Cognition 39, 17811792. doi:10.1037/a0032859CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed