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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2011, Issue 184


An exploration of the other side of semantic communication: How the spontaneous movements of the human hand add crucial meaning to narrative

Geoffrey Beattie / Heather Shovelton
Published Online: 2011-03-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2011.021


Past research has suggested that those spontaneous movements of the human hand made during talk convey significant semantic information over and above the speech, at least when the unit of speech analyzed is the individual clause. However, no previous research has tested whether this information is represented linguistically elsewhere in the narrative (or is directly inferable from the rest of the narrative). The first study, reported here, uses an experimental procedure to identify which specific imagistic gestures add semantic information to the speech. The second study analyzes whether the specific gestures still do this when respondents hear the whole narrative. It was found that two thirds of the semantic information, thought to be carried by the gestures, is, in fact, represented in the linguistic discourse, or is inferable from it. However, one third of the additional semantic information contained in the gestures is not represented linguistically in the narrative nor is it inferable from it. In other words, a proportion of the imagistic gestures that accompany speech are absolutely critical to semantic communication.

Keywords:: imagistic gesture; communicative function; semantic feature

About the article

Published Online: 2011-03-22

Published in Print: 2011-04-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2011, Issue 184, Pages 33–51, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2011.021.

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