Bilingual Twins: The Similarity between Oriya and English (2017)

For privacy purposes, I have removed all images from this paper

Professor Name: Peter Vail

Subject Name: UHB2207 Language, Cognition and Culture

Due 19th November 2017

Bilingual Twins: The Similarity between Oriya and English

In this paper, we build a case for what seems to be a striking similarity between Oriya and English by looking at bilingual Oriya-English speakers and the gesticulations that they produce. We find that these bilingual speakers, despite the wide variety of stimulus events, seem to consistently construe events in the same way in both Oriya and English. Then, we also show that one can infer the “thinking for speaking” hypothesis (Slobin, 1991) from this. However, we give an example that contradicts this idea, and show that bilingual Oriya-English speech and gestures are more complicated than initially thought. We then argue that McNeill’s (1998) hypothesized Growth Points may be a better representation, and provide another example (encoding aspect) of the complexity of Oriya-English bilingual gestures.


Our participants, Varun, Arun[1], and Sritam[2], were exposed to 3 different stimulus events each:

  1. Jackie Chan’s famous ladder fight scene
  2. A Tom and Jerry video
  3. Tweety video (McNeill & Levy, 1982)

Participants then recounted their experience of the video in Oriya to another Oriya speaker. We repeated the experiment 2 days later, but in English. Participant Sritam’s Oriya and English data were collected within the same day.


We compared the patterns of verb usage between Varun, Arun and Sritam, while keeping the stimulus event constant. More specifically, we looked at verbs that encode different motion information (path and/or manner) about the same event.

Oddly, all 3 participants have very consistent patterns of verb usage in Oriya and English. This might sound slightly ambiguous, we do not mean that all 3 participants choose to use the same spoken and gestured expressions in response to the same set of stimuli. What we mean is, despite differences in the spoken and gestured expression across participants, within individual participants themselves, their spoken and gestured expressions consistently encode the same motion information across languages.

This is better explained through the following examples:

3.0      DATA

For brevity, we shall focus on data from the Tweety video.

Gestured parts of the speech are bolded.



Speech (Varun)

Oriya: (at 28:11)      ball bajiki, siye authire pipe ru bahiri padigala

Oriya TL:      ball hit, he then pipe out fell

English: (at 24:35)   and out of the pipe, reaches the bowling alley

Gesture (Varun)




Here, we see Varun encoding information about the path sylvester takes, but not the manner, in his speech. Similarly, he gestures with a swooping motion the path that Sylvester takes, but does not gesture the rolling.


Speech (Arun)

Oriya: (at 27:01)      bhari thila sethi payin expel hei gala gote thare talu paula

Oriya TL:     heavy, therefore, expel happened at once, down went

English: (at 22:38)   and it was heavy and the ball pushes him out of the pipe

Gesture (Arun)




Here, we see Arun speaking about Sylvester being expelled (manner) and going down (path) in Oriya, and the ball pushing (manner) him out (path) in English. This example is slightly more complicated, Arun does a repeated sweeping motion in Oriya to show Sylvester being expelled and coming out of the pipe, but does a sort of pushing motion with his fingers to show the ball pushing Sylvester out of the pipe. At first glance, it might seem like Arun is encoding different information, however, when we focus on the verb categories and compare gesture and speech, we see that both path and manner is encoded in Oriya and English.

Speech (Sritam)

Oriya (at 2:17): aue siye tala pipe adu puni asigala, gadi gadi jaiki

Oriya TL:          and he down pipe towards again came, rolling went

English (at 2:00):     and then he comes out from the bottom rolling

Gesture (Sritam)

Oriya (down pipe):

Oriya (rolling):

English (comes out):

English (rolling):

Here, we see Sritam encoding path in speech (Sylvester comes out of the pipe) and gesturing path as well (with a sweeping motion), in both English and Oriya. Additionally, he also encodes manner in speech (rolling) and draws a small arc to gesture this as well, in both English and Oriya.


Now, to see the pattern more clearly and understand how similar Oriya and English are at encoding information for speaking, refer to the following table. For example, the first tick (✔) indicates that an English word indicating path is present in Varun’s speech.

  Information Encoded Path Manner
Language English Oriya English Oriya
Varun Speech
Arun Speech
Sritam Speech

Table 1


Looking at Table 1, notice how speech and gesture both seem to always be encoding the same information. Throughout our data, we see this as a consistent pattern (Sylvester thrown out the building, climbing the pipe, Tom flying after the hammock string is cut by Jerry, etc.). Whatever the speech encodes in Oriya/English, the gestures will mimic the encoding of information, for all 3 participants. If both path and manner are encoded, similarly, both path and manner will be expressed in gesture.

Additionally, whatever they encode in one language, will also be encoded when they speak in a different language. If Varun encodes path in Oriya, then he will also only encode path in English (both spoken, and in gesture). This pattern is also seen throughout our data.

Does this suggest thinking for speaking (Slobin, 1991)? There are 2 possible scenarios here:

Scenario 1 (No thinking for speaking, speakers attend to similar features of an event despite having to use different verb categories when speaking) Different verb categories Path/manner information encoded by gestures is different from the verb categories
Scenario 2 (Thinking for speaking, speakers construe events differently because the habitual use of verb categories differ, and this shows up in our gestures) Different verb categories Path/manner information encoded by gestures is the same as the verb categories


Unfortunately, we do not see any use of different verb categories across English and Oriya for us to be able to consider either scenario when looking at individual speakers. However, when we look across all 3 participants (comparing, say, Varun’s English with Sritam’s Oriya), we see that speakers use gestures that match up with the information encoded by the verb categories. Thinking for speaking?

If true, does this also suggest that due to how similar participants construe events in English and Oriya (at least, when looked at individually), that thinking for speaking is the same for English-Oriya bilinguals?


In this section, we will show why it is not as simple as “Thinking for Speaking” for these Oriya-English bilinguals by looking at the only example in our data that seems to break the consistency we have observed earlier:


Speech (Sritam)

Oriya (climbing, at 1:32): chadi chadi gala vele

Oriya TL: climb climb going

English (climbing, at 1:35): instead of climbing outside the pipe

Gesture (Sritam)

Oriya (climbing):

English (climbing):

In the English example, we see the same consistency, Sritam is speaking about Sylvester climbing up the pipe, and gestures the manner in which Sylvester does so with grasping motions using both hands.

In the Oriya example, things suddenly get very different. Sritam is speaking about climbing in Oriya (“climb climb”), and we know that he is encoding information about the “climbing” manner in which Sylvester approaches Tweety. However, his accompanying gesture does not encode manner at all and instead, shows the path taken by Sylvester (he swoops upwards using an indexical).

Is it really true that different languages structure events differently when thinking for speaking? According to McNeill and Duncan (1998), it is not so easy to just separate our structuring of events into just thinking about path and manner. The image of an event in our minds is not just simply filtered through the grammatical framework of language when thinking for speaking. McNeill and Duncan (1998) argue that image and language category are interplaying with one another when thinking for speaking, that they are separate things instead of speech being supervenient on language which is then supervenient on the images in our minds. Thus, they hypothesize a growth point where image and linguistic categories grow simultaneously to produce gesture and speech. This might be a better explanation for why we see the contradiction above.



In the previous sections, we saw how it is not so simple to say that bilingual Oriya-English speakers are thinking for speaking in the same way when recounting the same stimulus event. That is, it is not easy to say that Oriya and English structure the speakers’ view of stimulus events in the same way. This is because when we look at their gestures (more specifically, Sritam’s contradictory climbing gesture), we see that it is possible to have a gesture in Oriya that does not encode the same information as the verb category used in speech. Now, a further question is, does gesture only encode path and manner?

Duncan (2002) showed that for both English and Chinese speakers, grammatical aspect seems to be one of the meanings that are encoded in gestures. For example, verbs where AKTIONSART expressed stasis but ASPECT was imperfective such as “sitting”, and “listening” were expressed with an agitated hand gesture, even though the objects being described are technically motionless. Does this occur in languages other than English and Chinese, for example, Oriya?







Speech (Sritam)

Oriya: (at 1:05): binoculars neiki dekhuchi

Oriya TL: binoculars use watching

Gesture (Sritam)


Sritam curves his hand to form a circle at the word “binoculars” and slightly shakes his hand at the oriya verb “dekhuchi” (watching). While the first is a normal iconic gesture representing the shape of the binocular, the later shaking resembles the agitated hand mentioned in Duncan (2002). This happens at the verb for watching which does not imply any motion. Thus we can see how Sritam’s gesture expresses the aspect of the action in progress.


We have found one contradiction which breaks the identicalness between Oriya and English, however, it remains interesting that Oriya and English are nearly identical when we look at just path and manner. We have also shown that the relationship between gesture, speech, language and thought is more complicated than initially conceived.


Works Cited

Duncan, S. D. (2002). Gesture, verb aspect, and the nature of iconic imagery in natural discourse. Gesture, 2(2), 183-206.

McNeill, D. & Levy, E. T. (1982). Conceptual representations in language activity and gesture. In R. Jarvella & W. Klein (eds.), Speech, place, and action (pp. 271-295). Chichester: Wiley & Sons.

McNeill, D., & Duncan, S. D. (1998). Growth points in thinking-for-speaking.

Slobin, D. I. (1991). Learning to think for speaking. Pragmatics. Quarterly Publication of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA), 1(1), 7-25.



[1] Arun is Varun’s identical twin brother. Varun has moved to, and lived in, Singapore for 8 years, while his twin brother Arun stayed in India.

[2] Sritam also moved to Singapore 8 years ago and has a similar background to Varun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *