Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Şeyda Özçalışkan


Children achieve increasingly complex language milestones initially in gesture before they do so in speech. In this study, we ask whether gesture continues to be part of the language-learning process as children develop more abstract language skills, namely metaphors. More specifically, we focus on spatial metaphors for time and ask whether developmental changes in children’s production of such metaphors in speech also become evident in gesture and what cognitive and linguistic factors contribute to these changes. To answer these questions, we analyzed the speech and gestures produced by three groups of children (ages 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8)—all learning English as first language—as they talked about past and future events, along with adult native speakers of English. Here we asked how early we see change in the orientation (sagittal vs. lateral), directionality (left-to-right, right-to-left, backward, or forward) and congruency with speech (lateral gestures with Time-RP language and sagittal gestures with Ego-RP language). Further, we asked how comprehension of metaphors for time and literacy level would influence these changes. We found developmental changes in the orientation, directionality, and congruency of children’s gestures about time. We found that children’s gestures about time change in orientation (sagittal vs. lateral), in that children increase their use of lateral gestures with age and that this increase is influenced by their literacy level. Further, the directionality (left-to-right, right-to-left, forward, backward) of children’s gestures changes with age. For sagittal gestures we found that children that understood metaphor for time were more likely to produce sagittal gestures that placed the past behind and the future ahead. For lateral gestures, we found that children with higher levels of literacy were more likely to use lateral gestures that place the past to the left and the future to the right. Finally the congruency of children’s gesture with their speech changed. The older children were more likely to pair lateral gestures with Time-RP language than Ego-RP language.

Available for download on Thursday, December 06, 2018