Panel Discussion by Eve Sweetser and Irene Mittelberg on Gestures in Language Learning, November 5, 2004

Panel Discussion: Gestures in Language Learning

Gesture and Language: Reassessing Traditional Boundaries
Eve Sweetser, Linguisics Department, UC Berkeley
Gesture and language are traditionally treated as two separate and separable phenomena.  They are assumed to be crucially different in “kind” in numerous ways:  gesture is holistic, flexible, and iconic, while language is analytic, conventional, and formally arbitrary.  And yet recent research has clearly shown that they are co-processed at a tight neural level.  I shall here unpack some of these contrasts, analyzing their accuracy and the validity of the labels placed on them.  In some cases, a valid contrast is not that between gesture and language, but that between the auditory and the visual/gestural medium, as we can see by adding signed language structure to our list of phenomena being compared: as Taub has shown, signed languages are richly iconic in many of the same ways as gesture, while still resembling spoken languages in being conventional and grammatically structured.  I will conclude with some remarks on a new direction of research, the relation between physical viewpoint depiction in gesture and “viewpoint’ in spoken language.

Gesture as Meditational Practice: Embodied Cognition and Semiotic Acts in Language Teaching
Irene Mittelberg, Ph.D Candidate in Linguisics, Cornell University
Recent work on the semiotics of L2 teaching contexts has confirmed what language teachers are commonly aware of:  Hand gestures are part of the multimodal means and practices that both teachers and students draw upon when attempting to make meaning or when trying to make sense of what others convey.  This talk begins with a brief overview of SLA research on gesture.  We will then explore how teachers’ spontaneous co-speech gestures may enhance classroom interaction and the mediation of lexical, grammatical, and cultural knowledge.  The goal is to show that insights into the logic and use of this dynamic visual modality can inform our understanding of distributed cognition, subjectivity, and the emergence of meaning in communicative acts.

Friday, November 5, 2004
3:00-5:00pm, 370 Dwinelle Hall