A Multimodal View of Aspectuality in Oral Narratives

by Valeriia Denisova (Author)
©2019 Thesis 206 Pages
Series: SLOVO, Volume 4


The book focuses on event boundedness which can be expressed in the aspectual distinction (perfective and imperfective) and on kinesthetic level between gestures that include one or several energy impulses (bounded) and smooth gestures (unbounded). The correlation of verbal and gestural expression of event boundedness is studied on the basis of oral narratives produced by Russian L1, French L1 and (Russians as) French L2 speakers. The results reveal differences in event construal in multimodal terms by speakers of different languages. Overall, the book gives insight into not only the category of aspect, but also the ways in which it is realized in spontaneous oral narratives, and more generally: event construal on the verbal and gestural levels.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Abstract
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • 1.1. Research background
  • 1.2. Hypothesis, research questions, and objectives
  • 1.3. Methodology
  • 1.4. The significance of the results
  • 1.5. Structure of the dissertation
  • Chapter 2. The problem of the relationship between event-hood and aspectuality in linguistics
  • 2.1. “Events” in linguistics
  • 2.1.1. Origins of the linguistic theory of events: philosophy
  • 2.1.2. Linguistic descriptions of events
  • 2.1.3. Event parameters: from philosophy to linguistics
  • 2.2. Aspectuality as a linguistic category
  • 2.2.1. The interrelation of the concepts of aspect and vid
  • 2.2.2. Aspectual opposition in the Russian language
  • 2.3. Aspectual forms as a reflection of the internal structure of an event
  • 2.3.1. The semantics of aspectuality: means of representing the structure of an event
  • 2.3.2. Boundedness as a basis for event classifications
  • 2.3.3. Event construal through aspectuality
  • 2.4. Empirical research on events and aspect
  • 2.4.1. Studies of events in cognitive psychology
  • 2.4.2. Studies on the role of gestures in multimodal communication
  • 2.4.3. Gesture research on aspectual characteristics of verbs expressing events
  • Summary of Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3. Narratives: Theoretical background and methods of analysis
  • 3.1. The material analyzed: oral narratives
  • 3.2. Procedure for obtaining material for the empirical study
  • 3.3. Main characteristics of the material
  • 3.4. Selecting and analyzing verbal parameters
  • 3.5. Selecting and analyzing gestural parameters
  • Summary of Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4. Analysis of event construal in oral narratives: Verbal and gestural components
  • 4.1. Verbal construal of events: Qualitative and quantitative analyses of verbs
  • 4.1.1. Analysis of tense and aspect
  • 4.1.2. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of semantic verb groups
  • 4.2. Non-verbal event construal: Qualitative and quantitative analyses of gestures
  • 4.2.1. Quantitative analysis of gesture forms
  • 4.2.2. Factors that influence the correlation between the expression of boundedness on the verbal and gestural levels
  • 4.2.3. Gesture factors
  • The coding for functional types of gestures
  • Representation in gestures
  • Assimilation in gesture
  • The character of movement
  • 4.2.4. Profiling factor
  • 4.2.5. Linguistic-pragmatic factors
  • The influence of specific aspectual meanings of the imperfective
  • The influence of the verb быть (byt [to be])
  • The use of infinitive constructions
  • The use of historical present
  • Summary of Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5. Multimodal event construal in L2 speakers’ narratives: A comparison between L1 and L2 speakers
  • 5.1. Theoretical review of the French aspectual system as compared to that of Russian
  • 5.1.1. Aspect in French
  • 5.1.2. Differences between aspect in Russian and in French: Points of convergence and difference
  • 5.1.3. Passé composé and imparfait in practical grammar books
  • 5.2. Second language acquisition in speech and gesture
  • 5.3. French L1 results in comparison with Russian L1 results
  • 5.4. L2 study: Hypothesis, materials and methods
  • 5.5. Quantitative results and their assessment
  • 5.6. Qualitative results
  • 5.6.1. Representation in gestures
  • 5.6.2. The profiling factor in the L2 data
  • 5.6.3. French language peculiarities
  • 5.6.4. Peculiarities of L2 speakers’ gestures
  • Summary of Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6. Summary and discussion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix 1: Transliteration conventions used for Russian (Cyrillic to Latin alphabet)
  • Appendix 2: Consent form
  • Appendix 3: The conversation prompts as provided in Russian and French
  • Appendix 4: A screenshot of work in ELAN
  • Series index

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In the recent years a lot of linguists have started focusing on natural oral communication rather than on written discourse, which, in turn, has fueled growing interest in the sphere of multimodality. Following this tendency, researchers in cognitive linguistics have drawn attention to the connection between speech and gestures, giving rise to a new field of studies that concentrates on speech and gesture from the perspective of cognitive linguistics. This line of research presupposes that additional communicative resources are analyzed in connection with speech, giving us more profound access to mental representations of objects and events construed in discourse.

The present research was conducted with data involving the verbal and gestural expression of events, as found in oral narratives. The analysis is focused on one of the basic characteristics of event representation: event boundedness or unboundedness. The presence of event boundedness presupposes that either an initial or a final point of an event is foregrounded. In the opposite case the processuality of an event is underlined and, thus the event is considered unbounded (Croft 2012; Maslov 1948; 1990; 2004). In a number of languages, the distinction between boundedness and unboundedness is marked by the category of aspect. In Russian, the aspectual opposition covers the whole verbal paradigm and is present in all forms of nearly all verbs. Linguists who have been doing research in the field of the Russian aspectual system (Bondarko 1971, 1983, 1987; Maslov 1948, 1990, 2004; Vinogradov 1972) concludes that choosing a perfective form, the speaker marks event boundedness while choosing an imperfective form the speaker focuses on the processuality of the expressed event, and hence event boundaries are in the background.

In the present thesis, boundedness is regarded as a multimodal phenomenon that can be realized not only in language but also in gestures. This idea is based on the theoretical background presented in the works of Cienki, Kendon, McNeill, Slobin and others, according to which gestures are closely connected with speech and the process of thinking (Thinking-For-Speaking, according to Slobin). This connection and the use of gestures together with certain language units in speech is accounted for by a specific manner of event construal.

Thus boundedness as one of the basic characteristics of event construal is expressed grammatically through aspect and it can also be expressed multimodally through gestures. Following gesture schemas derived for this project, we distinguish between gestures that include one or several energy impulses and gestures ← 11 | 12 → that are produced smoothly. The former are referred to as bounded movements, while the latter – as unbounded movements.

The research question that follows from these theoretical points is: does the expression of boundedness through aspect correlate with the expression of boundedness in gestures?

On the basis of the Thinking-For-Speaking hypothesis, we hypothesized that the expression of event boundedness in speech, that is realized through verbal aspectual distinctions, can correlate with boundedness expressed on the kinesic level, however, the character of this correlation will be determined by the peculiarities of the aspectual system that can differ per language.

In the first stage of our research we analyzed boundedness and unboundedness expressed in Russian spoken discourse. The material used at this stage consisted of oral narratives of personal experiences produced by Russian native speakers. The empirical study was built in a way that oral narratives, though elicited from the participants, were natural and spontaneous in character, describing everyday life. The narratives that were produced entail a monologue with dialogical elements that is characterized by a series of syntactic, lexical and grammatical properties typical of oral informal speech.

The annotation of the narratives in ELAN allowed us to conduct a quantitative analysis of the material for testing the hypothesis about the correlation of boundedness expression in speech and gesture. The result has shown that Russian L1 speakers produce significantly more bounded gestures with perfective verbs and, also, more bounded gestures with imperfective verbs. Thus, our Russian L1 corpus did not display the hypothesized direct correlation between the expression of boundedness in speech and gesture.

The qualitative analysis of the multimodal units (verb + gesture) allowed us to single out a set of factors that may have influenced this correlation in different ways. The factors were divided into three groups. The first group contains factors related to gesture production peculiarities, the second set of cases is accounted for by the cognitive mechanism of profiling and the third group is made up of linguistic-pragmatic factors, related to the specifics of linguistic units and their functioning in oral narratives (see Section 4.2.).

The Russian L1 results were compared with the French L1 results reported in Boutet et al. (2016). Speakers of French L1 who took part in our study used more bounded gestures with perfective forms (the passé composé tense) and more unbounded gestures with imperfective forms (the imparfait tense). Such a difference from the Russian L1 results may be accounted for by the differences in the two aspectual systems: French aspect is less bound to the semantics of the verb than the Russian one (see Section 5.3.). ← 12 | 13 →

Another step of the analysis was conducted with Russian native speakers talking in French. This dataset showed a result that stays in the middle between Russian L1 and French L1. However, L2 data presents certain challenges that influenced the overall result (see Section 5.6.).

The analysis conducted in the thesis allows us to draw the following conclusions:

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Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1. Research background

The process of telling stories about everyday events is seemingly simple, but it raises numerous questions when one attempts to research both the process and the resultant narratives from a cognitive linguistic point of view. What constitutes an event? How do we construe events? What peculiarities occur in discourse about them? Which modes of communication play a crucial part in the process of narration? How do modes of communication intertwine in oral narratives? Do we construe and express events differently when we speak a foreign language?

In this dissertation we investigate these broad questions, as well as more specific points, and attempt to provide answers to them. The research presented here was conducted as a part of a bigger project “Verbal and co-verbal means of event construal across languages” which was funded by the Russian Science Foundation, grant number 14-48-00067. The project studied multimodal event construal across languages (Russian, French and German) in oral narratives of personal experiences. The results obtained from all three languages are reported in the book Aspectuality across languages: Event construal in speech and gesture (Cienki & Iriskhanova 2018).

The basic idea underlying this project follows from the ideas of W. von Humboldt about the connection between language and the process of thinking. Ever since his groundbreaking works appeared in the 19th century, linguists and philosophers have been arguing about the degree of the connection between language and thought. In the 20th century, Slobin (1987) proposed the Thinking-For-Speaking hypothesis that presupposes that differences on the grammatical level in languages influence the way speakers of a given language think when they are in the process of speaking.

In connection with these ideas, the main unit that is regarded in this research is that of events. In the framework of this project, we regard the term event as encompassing a wide class of activities, processes and states that are expressed in verbs, following the tradition of Vendler (1957) and Davidson (1980). According to this definition and the Thinking-For-Speaking hypothesis, we rely on the idea that the grammatical and lexical characteristics of verb forms that are available to speakers of a given language influence the way they construe events in discourse in the moment of speaking. ← 15 | 16 →

The notion of event is a very broad one. It is indicated in the literature that events have different parameters: change and its character, time, space, integrity and even social significance (Arutjunova 1988; Cleland 1991; Davidson 1980; van Dijk 1977). Linguists’ opinions on the importance of this or that parameter may differ; however, the characteristics of the change that occurs in the event in a certain place at a certain time are always regarded as crucial.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
Cognitive linguistics Russian French aspect co-speech gestures events
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 206 pp., 53 img. b/w.

Biographical notes

Valeriia Denisova (Author)

Valeriia Denisova studied linguistics and foreign language teaching in Moscow State Linguistic University (MSLU). Further on, she obtained a PhD, doing a double degree in MSLU and VU Amsterdam. Her research is conducted in the framework of cognitive linguistics and multimodal communication.


Title: A Multimodal View of Aspectuality in Oral Narratives
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