Gestures are modulated by social context: A study of multimodal politeness across two cultures

Lucien Brown, Hyunji Kim, Iris Hübscher, Bodo Winter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates gesture as a resource for marking politeness-related meanings. We asked 14 Korean and 14 Catalan participants to retell a cartoon, once to an unknown superior and once to a close friend. Participants in both languages curtail gestures when interacting with a socially distant superior. Speakers of both languages produced fewer gestures when addressing the superior, reduced their gesture space, decreased the encoding of MANNER, and reduced the use of character-viewpoint gestures. We see the decrease in gesture frequency and the less frequent encoding of MANNER as indicators of lower levels of iconicity when talking with status superiors. Curtailing gesture marks a less playful communicative context, and a more serious and deferential persona. Altogether, our research speaks to the importance of politeness in gesture production, and the social nature of gestures in human communication.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
Early online date10 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2023


  • gesture
  • politeness
  • body language
  • nonverbal communication
  • sociolinguistics
  • pragmatics
  • multimodality
  • multimodal communication
  • Catalan
  • Korean


Dive into the research topics of 'Gestures are modulated by social context: A study of multimodal politeness across two cultures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this