Cross-cultural variation of speech-accompanying gesture: A review

Sotaro Kita

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

137 Citations (Scopus)
2429 Downloads (Pure)


This article reviews the literature on cross-cultural variation of gestures. Four factors governing the variation were identified. The first factor is the culture-specific convention for form-meaning associations. This factor is involved in well-known cross-cultural differences in emblem gestures (e.g., the OK-sign), as well as pointing gestures. The second factor is culture-specific spatial cognition. Representational gestures (i.e., iconic and deictic gestures) that express spatial contents or metaphorically express temporal concepts differ across cultures, reflecting the cognitive differences in how direction, relative location and different axes in space are conceptualised and processed. The third factor is linguistic differences. Languages have different lexical and syntactic resources to express spatial information. This linguistic difference is reflected in how gestures express spatial information. The fourth factor is culture-specific gestural pragmatics, namely the principles under which gesture is used in communication. The culture-specificity in politeness of gesture use, the role of nodding in conversation, and the use of gesture space are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-167
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Culture
  • Conversation
  • Gesture
  • Language
  • Space


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