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Gesture frequency is linked to story-telling style: evidence from bilinguals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2019

University of Alberta, Psychology
University of Alberta
University of Alberta, Augustana Campus
University of Alberta
Address for correspondence: Elena Nicoladis. e-mail:


Individuals differ in how frequently they gesture. It is not clear whether gesture frequency is related to culture, since varied results have been reported. The purpose of this study was to test whether the frequency of representational gestures is linked with story-telling style. Previous research showed individual and cross-cultural differences in story-telling style, some preferring to tell a chronicle (how it happened) or an evaluative story (why it happened). We hypothesized that high gesture frequency might be strongly associated with using a chronicle style, since both rely on visuospatial imagery. Four groups of bilinguals, English as their second language (L2) participated. Their first language (L1) was one of: Mandarin, Hindi, French, or Spanish. Participants watched a cartoon and told the story, once in English, once in L1. The results showed group differences in the rate of gesture use: the Chinese and Hindi L1 participants gestured less frequently than the French and Spanish L1 participants. The participants from Asian cultures were more likely to tell an evaluative story and the Romance-language L1 participants a chronicle. We conclude that these culture/language groups differ in story-telling style. A chronicle style is associated with more gesture production than an evaluative style.

Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2019 

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We thank all the participants in this study. Carrie Jensen, Samuel Navarro, Nathalie Savoie, Jody Sherman, and Hui Yin helped with data collection and transcription. Funding for this study came from an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council awarded to the first and third authors.



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