When Do Speakers Use Gestures to Specify Who Does What to Whom? The Role of Language Proficiency and Type of Gestures in Narratives

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Previous research has found that iconic gestures (i.e., gestures that depict the actions, motions or shapes of entities) identify referents that are also lexically specified in the co-occurring speech produced by proficient speakers. This study examines whether concrete deictic gestures (i.e., gestures that point to physical entities) bear a different kind of relation to speech, and whether this relation is influenced by the language proficiency of the speakers. Two groups of speakers who had different levels of English proficiency were asked to retell a story in English. Their speech and gestures were transcribed and coded. Our findings showed that proficient speakers produced concrete deictic gestures for referents that were not specified in speech, and iconic gestures for referents that were specified in speech, suggesting that these two types of gestures bear different kinds of semantic relations with speech. In contrast, less proficient speakers produced concrete deictic gestures and iconic gestures whether or not referents were lexically specified in speech. Thus, both type of gesture and proficiency of speaker need to be considered when accounting for how gesture and speech are used in a narrative context.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Publication statusPublished - 2013