• Metaphors and Gestures for Abstract Concepts in Academic English Writing

      Zhao, Jun; Waugh, Linda; Hill, Jane; Wildner-Bassett, Mary E.; McCafferty, Steven G. (The University of Arizona., 2007)
      Gestures and metaphors are important mediational tools to materialize abstract conventions in the conceptual development process (Lantolf and Thorne, 2006): metaphors are used in the educational setting to simplify abstract knowledge for learners (Ungerer and Schmidt, 1996; Wee, 2005); gestures, through visual representation, can "provide additional insights into how humans conceptualize abstract concepts via metaphors" (Mittelberg, in press, p. 23).This study observed and videotaped four composition instructors and 54 ESL students at an American university to probe how their metaphorical expressions and gestures in a variety of naturally occurring settings, such as classroom teaching, student-teacher conferencing, peer reviewing and student presentations, represent the abstract rhetorical conventions of academic writing in English. By associating students' gestures with the instructors' metaphors and gestures, this study found evidence for the assistive roles of metaphors and gestures in the learning process. The final interviews elicited students' metaphors of academic writing in English and in their first languages. The interviewees were also asked to reflect upon the effectiveness of the metaphors and gestures they were exposed to.This study confirmed the roles of gestures in reflecting the abstract mental representation of academic writing. Twelve patterns were extracted from the instructors' data, including the linearity, container, building, journey metaphors and others. Of these twelve patterns, six were materialized in the students' gestural usage. The similarity of gestures found in the instructors' and students' data provided proof of the occurrence of learning. In the elicited data, students created pyramid, book, and banquet metaphors, to highlight features of academic writing in English and in their first languages. These new metaphors demonstrate students' ability to synthesize simple metaphors they encountered for a more complex one, which is more significant in the learning process. The interviews suggest that metaphors are better-perceived and more effective in relating abstract knowledge to the students. Gestures were not judged by the students to be helpful. This could result from the fact that gestures, other than emblems, are often understood unconsciously and are naturally used to provide additional information to the verbal utterance rather than replacing speech, which is more prominent perceptually and conceptually.