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Having a different pointing of view about the future: The effect of signs on co-speech gestures about time in Mandarin–CSL bimodal bilinguals

  • YAN GU (a1) (a2), YEQIU ZHENG (a3) and MARC SWERTS (a1)

Mandarin speakers often use gestures to represent time laterally, vertically, and sagittally. Chinese Sign Language (CSL) users also exploit signs for that purpose, and can differ from the gestures of Mandarin speakers in their choices of axes and direction of sagittal movements. The effects of sign language on co-speech gestures about time were investigated by comparing spontaneous temporal gestures of late bimodal bilinguals (Mandarin learners of CSL) and non-signing Mandarin speakers. Spontaneous gestures were elicited via a wordlist definition task. In addition to effects of temporal words on temporal gestures, results showed significant effects of sign. Compared with non-signers, late bimodal bilinguals (1) produced more sagittal but fewer lateral temporal gestures; and (2) exhibited a different temporal orientation of sagittal gestures, as they were more likely to gesture past events to their back. In conclusion, bodily experience of sign language can not only impact the nature of co-speech gestures, but also spatio-motoric thinking and abstract space-time mappings.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Yan Gu, Department of Experimental Psychology, Psychology and Language Sciences, Faculty of Brain Sciences, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, United
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*The first author received financial support from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, via NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen (322-89-007) and the second author received financial support from NWO Research Talent (406-15-298), which are gratefully acknowledged. We thank Yufen Chi, Weidong Zheng, and Qingshi Zhu who have assisted us in running experiments. We are grateful to Marieke Hoetjes, Rein Cozijn, editor Kira Gor and the three anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript, and Arthur van Soest for his advice on statistics. Preliminary results of this study have been presented at the 7th Conference of International Society for Gesture Studies in Paris (ISGS 2016), and “The role of gesture in cognitive and linguistic processes” workshop at the University of Warwick (July, 2017).

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