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A cross-linguistic study of the development of gesture and speech in Zulu and French oral narratives*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2016

Department of Linguistics, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Octogone Lab, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France
UFR de Sciences du Langage et Laboratoire Lidilem, Université Stendhal, France
Address for correspondence: Ramona Kunene Nicolas, Department of Linguistics, University of Witwatersrand, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, 2000, Johannesburg, South Africa. e-mail:


The present study reports on a developmental and cross-linguistic study of oral narratives produced by speakers of Zulu (a Bantu language) and French (a Romance language). Specifically, we focus on oral narrative performance as a bimodal (i.e., linguistic and gestural) behaviour during the late language acquisition phase. We analyzed seventy-two oral narratives produced by L1 Zulu and French adults and primary school children aged between five and ten years old. The data were all collected using a narrative retelling task. The results revealed a strong effect of age on discourse performance, confirming that narrative abilities improve with age, irrespective of language. However, the results also showed cross-linguistic differences. Zulu oral narratives were longer, more detailed, and accompanied by more co-speech gestures than the French narratives. The parallel effect of age and language on gestural behaviour is discussed and highlights the importance of studying oral narratives from a multimodal perspective within a cross-linguistic framework.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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This research was supported by grant no. 0178-01 from the ANR (French National Research Agency) project entitled ‘L'acquisition et les troubles du langage au regard de la multimodalité de la communication parlée’. We also wish to acknowledge the generous funding by the National Research Foundation, South Africa under Grant No. 77955.



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