GestLanD Project Scientific Summary
Funded by the European Research Agency under the FP7 programme in 2014 (GESTLAND PIRSES-GA-2013-612563), the main scientific objective of GEST_LAN_D (Gesture and Language Development across Romance and Bantu Languages, http://gestland.eu/) is to investigate the robustness of gesture use in early and later language acquisition and to study its developmental course across distinct linguistic and cultural contexts. The research is a collaboration between two European research teams from Rome, Italy (GLADD Lab, ISTC-CNR) and Grenoble, France (Lidilem Lab, University of Grenoble Alpes) and two South African research teams from Johannesburg (Linguistics Department, University of the Witwatersrand) and Cape Town (Linguistics Department, University of Cape Town) whose expertise is on multimodality in human interaction, language acquisition, gesture and cognition.
In order to study gesture production at early stages of language development and compare it across Romance and Bantu languages, the first scientific objective includes adaptation and introduction of a vocabulary assessment tool (PiNG – Parole in Gioco), recently created in Italy, to two Bantu languages from South Africa (i.e., isiZulu and Sesotho) as well as to French as a Romance language. There are two reasons for this adaptation. The first reason is that administration of a picture denomination task to children was found to spontaneously elicit gesture production from young children (Pettenati et al., 2012; Stefanini et al., 2009). The second reason is that adaptation and introduction of PiNG to Bantu languages is of great interest to help foster psycholinguistic research and speech-therapy practice with Bantu speaking populations in South Africa. By means of adapting the PiNG task, collaborators on GESTLAND have gathered a substantial set of video data that enables the study of gesture production and the relation between gesture and lexical acquisition at early stages of language development and across distinct languages. The following presents an overview of work done and main achievements since the launching of the programme in March, 2014.
The PiNG vocabulary task was developed in Italy to assess lexical production/comprehension in children between 19 and 37 months considering both nouns and predicates. The task includes two sets of pictures. The first set includes 22 images (20 test + 2 pre-test pictures) of objects, tools, animals, food and clothing and is used in evaluating comprehension/production of nouns. The second set is made up of 22 images (20 test + 2 pre-test pictures) showing actions, locations or properties and is used in evaluating comprehension/production of verbs, adverbs and adjectives. The original PiNG task was validated on a population of 388 Italian children (Bello et al., 2012).
The adaptation process on the GESTLAND research programme started with a translation of the target words and questions from the original PinG material into French, Sesotho and isiZulu. A first pilot study was conducted with 15 French, 20 Sotho and 22 Zulu adults to check the availability and adequacy of the translated sets of nouns and predicates in the target languages. The first South Sotho and isiZulu versions of PinG needed further adaptation which resulted in replacing 5 pictures corresponding to problematic lexical targets or inadequate reference.
A second pilot study followed that was conducted with 45 French, Sotho, and Zulu children aged 25, 30 and 36 months (15 children in each language group, 5 children in each age group) to check the adequacy of the new material. In order to ensure comparison between all language groups, an instruction guide (see doc. Instructions for Administration and Annotation of the PING task in the GEST_LAN_D Project 2014-2015 in Attachments) was provided for the administration of the task.
Video data from the pilot study was processed in ELAN using an annotation system (see doc. Instructions for Administration and Annotation of the PING task in the GEST_LAN_D Project 2014-2015 in Attachments) designed for our purpose. The experimenter and the child’s wordings were transcribed and annotated for task (comprehension/production) and sub-test (nouns/predicates). The child’s response on each lexical target was annotated for correctness, type and modality of response, and the child’s gestures were annotated on several dimensions such as morphology, pragmatics, semantics and relation to speech. For all three target language groups, older children were found to perform better on both tasks than children from the middle age group, who in turn were found to perform better than children from the younger group.
The main data collection was completed between November, 2014 and May, 2015, in Rome (Italy),
Grenoble (France), Edenburg (Free State province, RSA) and Soweto (Johannesburg, RSA). The final PiNG data collection involved 47 French, 36 Italian, 68 Sotho and 41 Zulu participants. To estimate the suitability of our adaptation of PiNG to the three new target languages, a comparative study was conducted on a subset of the data involving 144 participants (36 children in each language group, 12 children in each age group). As expected, all children performed better in the comprehension task than in the production task, and on noun comprehension and production that on predicates comprehension and production. Older children performed better than their younger counterparts. However, Bantu children’s scores were significantly lower than those of Italian children on both tasks (see graph below). The GESTLAND collaborators are now discussing and publishing these results in a common paper as well as in separate publications.
The second scientific objective on the GESTLAND research programme is to study the course of gesture production throughout childhood and to explore the cognitive dimension of representational gestures at early and later stages of language development. The PiNG data collection being now complete, work has started on gestural data. First analysis of representational gestures out of the complete collection will be presented at the next ISGS (International Society for Gesture Studies) conference in Paris, July, 2016. In order to study the way representational gestures evolve with age, collaborators have started a second data collection using a narrative eliciting technique: adults and children aged 6 and 10 years are shown a short cartoon extract and are asked to narrate from what they see. Most people produce spontaneous gestures during narration, and the method is widely used in the literature on gesture research. The narrative data collection will be complete by August, 2016.
Bringing together the two collections will allow us to track and study major changes in representational gesture production throughout childhood, searching for common developmental trends.
The third scientific objective is to investigate the effect of linguistic and cultural constraints on gesture and multimodal language production during childhood. Building on previous work (Colletta, Kunene & Guidetti, in press), we will run comparisons between the four language groups on specific aspects of linguistic and gestural coding for spatial reference and narrative coherence.