Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

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Abstract Gullberg

Second language (L2) acquisition studies often tacitly assume that target-like forms in L2 speech reflect target-like meaning. At the same time, comprehension studies show that L2 learners' comprehension differs from that of native speakers, suggesting that shifts in meaning representations and linguistic construal represent a challenge to L2 learners. However, while comprehension studies show that learners' construals differ from the target, they often say little about how they differ. This study examines the effects of cross-linguistic differences in placement event construal in L2 production by looking at speech and speech-associated gestures in combination. Gestures reflect what information is considered newsworthy and is targeted for expression both in their form and their timing relative to speech. Gestures thus provide a new window on shifts in meaning representations and more details on the event construals that learners do operate with.

Drawing on data from an event description task, the study investigates (1) language-specific construal of placement events (putting things in places) in speech and gestures in native Dutch, French and German, and (2) to what extent advanced Dutch and German learners of L2 French adjust their event construals in the L2. The first study establishes that native Dutch, French and German speakers systematically attend to different spatial information as part of their placement event construals. The form of Dutch speakers' gestures show a focus on objects and movement linked to the action (aligned with verbs). French and German speakers' gestures target only movement in form, with French speakers linking it to the action (aligned with verbs), and German speakers linking it to the goal (aligned with locative expressions). The second study shows that although Dutch and German learners' speech in L2 French is target-like, their gestures reveal a more complex picture of L2 event construal. Learners' gestures reflect both transfer of event construal from the L1s and shifts towards the target L2 as seen either in change of gestural form (Dutch learners) or gestural timing (German learners). Gestures therefore provide a more gradient view of 'transfer', and also highlight that adjustment is not beyond the scope of L2 acquisition.