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Second language acquisition can be defined as the acquisition of another language after the age of three or four (Klein, 1986). It involves the learning and mastery of the morphology, syntax, phonology, and lexicon of the new language. The process by which learners acquire a second language is complex, gradual, nonlinear, and dynamic (Larsen- Freeman, 1991). Depending on their stage of second language development, learners may have difficulty retrieving words, or they may not know words at all and exhibit lexical failure.

Butterworth and Hadar (1989, 1997) have proposed that iconic gestures arise when speakers have a lexical retrieval problem and that these gestures help facilitate word-finding. Beattie et al. (Beattie & Shovelton, 1999; Beattie & Coughlan, 1998, 1999) have experimentally tested this theory and shown that lexical retrieval problems alone cannot account for iconic gestures. Rather, they have shown that the gestures that accompany lexical retrieval difficulty are sometimes iconic and sometimes not. Their work supports McNeill’s theory (1989, 1992) that speech and gesture form a singleintegrated system and express two aspects of thought: the verbal and the imagistic and that gestures are manifestations of speakers' on-line thinking processes.

The studies on gesture and lexical retrieval to date have involved native speakers of a language. In this paper, I consider the issue of what happens when the speaker is a second language learner. I examine the types of gestures that occur with lexical retrieval and lexical failure in second language development and their function. I propose that different types of gestures occur depending on whether the speaker is trying to access a word or whether the speaker is trying to elicit a word from the listener.


Originally published in Christian Cavé, Isabelle Guaïtella et Serge Santi (eds.) 2001. Oralité et Gestualité: Interactions et Comportements Multimodaux Dans La Communication. Christian Cavé, Isabelle Guaïtella et Serge Santi (eds.) Paris: L’Harmattan



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