Using the Hands to Identify Who Does What to Whom: Gesture and Speech Go Hand-in-Hand

WC So, Sotaro Kita, S Goldin-Meadow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

63 Citations (Scopus)


In order to produce a coherent narrative, speakers must identify the characters in the tale so that listeners can figure out who is doing what to whom. This paper explores whether speakers use gesture, as well as speech, for this purpose. English speakers were shown vignettes of two stories and asked to retell the stories to an experimenter. Their speech and gestures were transcribed and coded for referent identification. A gesture was considered to identify a referent if it was produced in the same location as the previous gesture for that referent. We found that speakers frequently used gesture location to identify referents. Interestingly, however, they used gesture most often to identify referents that were also uniquely specified in speech. Lexical specificity in referential expressions in speech thus appears to go hand-in-hand with specification in referential expressions in gesture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-125
Number of pages11
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Communication
  • Gesture
  • Discourse
  • Referential expression


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