The “private function” of gesture in second language speaking activity: a study of motion verbs and gesturing in English and Spanish


1Correspondence to: James P. Lantolf Center for Language Acquisition 305 Sparks Building The Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802


This article examines Slobin's concept of thinking for speaking (TFS) in the gesture/speech interface of advanced L2 speakers of English and Spanish. The focus is on the use of motion verbs in the respective languages. English, a satellite-framed language, encodes manner of motion in the verb and indicates path of motion on satellite phrases (e.g. The frog leaped out of the boy's pocket). Spanish, a verb-framed language, encodes path, and only rarely manner of motion, in the verb. If manner is encoded at all, it is done either through lexical phrases (e.g. Tarzan saltó de liana a liana‘Tarzan jumped from vine to vine’) or gesture. Using McNeill's notion of growth point, the study suggests that L2 speakers, even at advanced levels, have difficulties manifesting L2 TFS patterns and continue to rely on the patterns internalized in their L1. Shifting from an L1 to an L2 TFS is particularly vexing for the L1 English speakers, because their L1 is richly endowed with manner verbs, while Spanish, their L2, is not. Spanish L1 speakers in L2 English, on the other hand, can rely on the English equivalents of basic manner verbs in Spanish. The analysis also suggests the need for reconsidering how manner verbs are categorized.