Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 11-15-2017


Studies of thinking-for-speaking (Slobin, 1987) and of linguistic relativity (Gumperz & Levinson, 1996) in multilinguals have been attracting more attention (Ortega, 2015). I propose the incorporation of sociocultural theory and linguistic relativity as a novel research approach in second language acquisition (SLA). Japanese learners of English go through a process in which word meaning develops from a single to binary semantic categorization as they learn to express vertical spatial operations in their second language (L2). Japanese has a nonobligatory distinction between contact and noncontact relationships when expressing vertical space (single semantic categorization), whereas English has an obligatory contrast (binary semantic categorization) (Munnich et al., 2001). The expression of vertical spatial relationships in Japanese and English is further influenced by language typology. Japanese, an SOV language, uses postpositions while English, an SVO language, uses prepositions.

Vygotsky (1987) argues that verbal thinking (the internalization of speech) is tied with word meaning, and thus, as Japanese EFL high school students learn to express the obligatory contact-noncontact feature of vertical spatial configurations in English, moving from a single to a binary semantic categorization, verbal thinking will also develop. Vygotsky (1987) further claims that verbal thinking has sociocultural origins. In this dissertation, I investigate whether gesture can be instrumental in overcoming the constraints imposed by linguistic relativity. Vygotsky (1998) states, “Speech becomes the means for thinking mainly because it reflects an objectively occurring intellectual operation. This is a moment of major importance in the development of speech and thinking, which discloses the secret of the development of verbal thinking as a whole” (p. 114). I predict that a distinct worldview and the “development of cognitive processes” (Matyushkin, 1997b, p. 272) arise together when Japanese EFL students learn vertical spatial structure with the Gesture Listening Higher Concept Approach, which leads to “a qualitatively new mental formation that develops according to completely special laws and is subject to completely different patterns” (Vygotsky 1998, p. 34).

The purpose of this study: (1) To pursue the new research path regarding incorporating linguistic relativity into SLA in sociocultural theory; (2) to explore whether the concurrent use of iconic co-speech co-thought gesture (ICSCTG) and listening practice can help Japanese high school students learn to express vertical spatial relationships in English more than they would learn from either treatment alone; (3) to investigate whether teaching ICSCTG and listening practice together will help Japanese EFL learners preserve knowledge of how to express vertical spatial relationships in English for a month after the intervention. I employed quantitative methods to accomplish the goals noted above. Results in this study suggest that the Gesture Listening Higher Concept Approach is an effective, evidence-based theoretical and pedagogical framework, which can facilitate L2 learning and conceptual change at the high school level. The effect of the Gesture Listening Higher Concept Approach on long-term foreign language learning would be a valuable avenue for future research.

Slobin, D. I. (1987). Thinking for Speaking. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 13, pp. 435-445.


Sociocultural theory, English as a Foreign Language, Linguistic Relativity, Gesture, Listening Practice, Higher-Concept

Document Type




Degree Name

Educational Linguistics

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Jill Morford

Second Committee Member

Holbrook Mahn

Third Committee Member

Sherman Wilcox

Fourth Committee Member

Shoko Hamano