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Conference papers

A bilingual child’s multimodal path into negation

Abstract : As discussed by Spitz (1957), first negative constructions seem to take over from early gestures of rejection and avoidance (Clark 1978). For Kendon (2002), in many cultures, gestures of negation are the ritualization of spontaneous actions. Guidetti (2005) argues that gestures of agreement and refusal are the first symbolic gestures (aside from pointing) used by children. The study of the expression of negation in longitudinal data of adult-child conversations is therefore a privileged locus for a multimodal approach to language acquisition. However, tracing the transitions or complementarities between actions and gestures, and between gestures and verbalized expressions in very young children, and understanding the function of each modality can be quite complex. In the case of bilingual language acquisition, the necessity to enter two languages at once might have an influence on the management of the visual-gestural and the auditory modalities. The synchronization of gestures and verbal production, the amount of gestures used and the length of the “pre-linguistic” period might be different from monolingual children. In order to tackle these issues, we analyze the longitudinal data of Antoine, a bilingual French/Italian child living in France, and recorded once a month for an hour with his Italian mother and once a month with his French father between the ages of 1;5 and 3;5, in comparison to 4 monolingual children during the same age period. Negation in French and Italian is expressed by a similar adverb (non/no) at the beginning of acquisition but the syntax of negative utterances used a little later on is different in both languages. Our preliminary analyses show that there is a clear dominance of corporal-gestural negation at the beginning of the data. First forms of negation correspond to refusals expressed by avoidance, gestures of rejection, headshakes. The child’s gestures form a clear micro-system with a form-function pairing to express acceptance, requests and refusals. Later on, around 2;0, negation is expressed by a simultaneous use of gestures and verbal productions first in French, then in Italian with very creative combinations of the two languages such as manon (ma in Italian meaning but and non in French meaning no) accompanied with gestures. Finally, around 2;6, the verbal modality becomes clearly dominant. The comparison with the four monolingual children suggests that several features distinguish Antoine who seems to use the gestural modality for a longer period of time due to a combination of several factors: -In his bilingual environment, gestures of negation are culturally the same in French and in Italian and are used both by his mother and his father. They might be a stable element to seize in his input and put into use efficiently in all circumstances. -His 4-year-old brother is a very talkative little boy and invades the whole sound environment. Antoine might resort to gesture in order to communicate without interference. Gesture might therefore have a compensatory function for that little boy. It is a wonderful resource to communicate efficiently in his specific environment during his multimodal, multilingual entry into language.
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Contributor : Aliyah Morgenstern <>
Submitted on : Sunday, January 1, 2017 - 9:59:42 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - 11:39:26 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-01424063, version 1



Sandra Benazzo, Aliyah Morgenstern. A bilingual child’s multimodal path into negation. Aflico 2013, Maarten Lemmens, 2013, Lille, France. ⟨halshs-01424063⟩



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