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12. The pragmatics of gesture and space

From the book Pragmatics of Space

  • Ellen Fricke


Visual co-speech gestures differ from auditory verbal utterances with regard to their mediality. In contrast to words in spoken language, which only occur in the linear dimension of time, gestures that accompany them additionally use the three-dimensional space. Due to their specific spatio-temporal mediality, gestures are particularly well suited for the representation of qualities, movements, and spatial relations. Consequently, this prompts the question of what is meant by the term “spatiality” in the context of speech and gesture. The required tertiumcomparationis can be provided by semiotics and, notably, by the Peircean concept of sign applied to the notion of “space”. With reference to Peirce, distinctions are made between spatial hand movements (representamen), space as an object of communication (object), and space as a concept (interpretant). A main focus of this chapter is on different forms of gestural spaces created by communication partners using different gestural means and different spatial concepts while talking to each other about space. Different forms such as sphere-like, map-like, or screen-like spaces can be created by speakers in collaboration with their addressees while turn-taking. Two main types of interactive gesture spaces can be observed: shared spaces and separated spaces. Moreover, these kinds and other types of gesturally created spaces hold the potential to be used also metaphorically or metonymically by means of complex sign concatenation. New fields of research on gesture and space emerge from new technologies, like motion-capturing and gesture control, in different application settings of human-machine interaction, e. g., VR environments or human-robot-interaction

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