Gesture First or Speech First in Language Origins?

Adam Kendon

in Deaf around the World

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199732548
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199866359 | DOI:
Gesture First or Speech First in Language Origins?

Show Summary Details


After an overview of the debate about whether spoken or sign language came first, the author challenges its founding assumption, that languages are monomodalic, by reporting on a study of Italians describing events. People matched kinesic expressions to word meaning and produced kinesic versions of word pronunciations, using gestures as schematic devices when describing entities’ shape, location, and size. Language, then, can be constructed in multiple dimensions and modalities simultaneously. Sign languages are, thus, not unique in being able to express multiple propositions at once. The author conjectures that writing has skewed our idea of how spoken language works, since writing is concatenative. Probably the earliest languages were multimodal, as today, making use of whatever fit the circumstance and convenience.

Keywords: sign language linguistics; gesture; language evolution; Italian; language modality; kinesic expressions

Chapter.  7873 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.