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Why iconic gestures aren’t very iconic. Elena Nicoladis. Gestures and thought. Gestures are often used in conjunction with speech Have complementary meaning Timed with speech Thoughts are conveyed by gesture + speech (McNeill, 1996). Why do people gesture?. To help lexical retrieval

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gestures and thought
Gestures and thought
  • Gestures are often used in conjunction with speech
    • Have complementary meaning
    • Timed with speech
  • Thoughts are conveyed by gesture + speech (McNeill, 1996)
why do people gesture
Why do people gesture?
  • To help lexical retrieval
    • Evidence: Tip-of-the-Tongue experiment with hands free or not free
  • To help listeners understand
    • Evidence: Gestures are produced at low frequency word combinations
  • Note that in conversations, both could be true
this talk
This talk
  • How do different kinds of gestures relate to speech?
    • Gesture development
    • Do gestures compensate for missing or weak speech?
  • Study of French-English bilingual children
gesture development prelinguistic gestures
Gesture development: prelinguistic gestures
  • Conventional gestures
    • Appear around 9 mos.
  • Symbolic gestures
    • Appear before words; disappear when words acquired
  • Deictic or pointing gestures
    • Appear around 9-12 mos.
    • Usually with vocalizations
prelinguistic gestures may all be conventional
Prelinguistic gestures may all be conventional
  • Symbolic gestures probably are learned from adults
  • Deictic gestures vary from culture to culture
    • Ghanian mouth point
gesture development with language gestures
Gesture development: with-language gestures
  • Iconic gestures: resemble referent
    • Emerge around age of 2 years
    • Correlated with proficiency in French-English bilingual preschoolers between 2;0 and 3;6
  • Beat gestures: keep time
    • Rarely seen in the preschool years
do gestures compensate for weak or absent speech
Do gestures compensate for weak or absent speech?
  • Deaf people (home signs)
  • Bilinguals (one language usually weaker)
  • Elderly
  • Aphasics
iconic gestures rarely compensate
Iconic gestures rarely compensate
  • Deaf children with oral training use words rather than gestures
  • Elderly people use fewer iconic gestures than younger people
  • Intermediate bilinguals use fewer iconic gestures in their L2 than their L1
  • Advanced bilinguals use equal rates of iconic gestures in their L1 and L2
other gestures can compensate
Other gestures can compensate
  • First home signs are mostly conventional gestures and deictic gestures
  • Broca’s aphasics can still use conventional and deictic gestures
  • Both intermediate and advanced bilinguals use more deictics in their L2 than their L1
different gestures different relationship to speech
Different gestures, different relationship to speech
  • Prelinguistic gestures can compensate for weak or absent speech
  • “With-language” gestures do not compensate for weak or absent speech
    • Home signs can be iconic but only after a communicative system has been established
this study
This study
  • How are different kinds of gestures related to speech?
  • Are iconic gestures more closely linked to speech than other kinds of gestures?
this study research questions
This study: Research Questions
  • Does the rate of gestures relate to proficiency?
  • Do children create longer utterances with iconic gestures
  • Do children use “speechless” gestures to compensate for weak proficiency?
  • Are iconic gestures used in cases of word-finding difficulty?
this study participants
This study: Participants
  • Eight French-English bilingual children
    • Between 3;6 and 4;11
    • Average age: 4;3
    • 4 French-dominant children and 4 English-dominant children
  • Videotaped in two free-play sessions:
    • French session
    • English session
results gesture by dominance
Results: Gesture by dominance

Conventional gestures

summary gesture by dominance
Summary: Gesture by dominance
  • These children used more iconic gestures in their dominant language
  • They did not use more conventional and deictic gestures in their dominant language
results word finding difficulties
Results: Word finding difficulties
  • Jason (3;7) “It goes like this.”
    • Gesture meaning: path of movement from a vehicle pictured in a book
    • 1/22 iconic gestures
  • Aidan (4;11): “So it can go like this and like this.”
    • Gesture meaning: looping paths that the train tracks they are building should do
    • 6/9 iconic gestures
summary of results 1
Summary of results #1
  • Conventional and deictic gestures
    • Are not used more often with dominant language
    • Do not lead to longer sentences
    • Are used more often without speech when trying to communicate in weaker language
summary of results 2
Summary of results #2
  • Iconic gestures
    • Are used more often with dominant language
    • Produced with longer sentences
    • Are not used more often without speech when trying to communicate in weaker language
    • Are occasionally used in cases of word-finding difficulty, possibly increasing with age
iconic gestures aren t very iconic
Iconic gestures aren’t very iconic
  • They can only be produced when someone knows a language well
  • This holds true even for bilinguals who CAN produce iconics in their other language
  • At least one function of iconics may be to “hold down” some concepts while thinking of others (hence, longer utterances possible)
iconic gestures aren t very iconic25
Iconic gestures aren’t very iconic
  • We also have some evidence that the interpretation of iconic gestures is highly dependent on what someone says
a troubling question
A troubling question…
  • Why is the rate of iconic production different by language?
    • Italians vs. English speakers
    • Spanish vs. English speakers
    • Chinese speakers
some possible answers
Some possible answers
  • English speakers think less complex thoughts than Italian and Spanish speakers
  • The fact that iconic gestures are produced is due to cognitive development. The rate of cognitive gestures is due to cultural variables.
  • Other ideas??