Thursday, 4 September 2014, 13:30, room 12A-44, main building of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Gesture Pragmatics: Embodied function and form of discourse management gestures

Elisabeth Wehling (University of California, Berkeley)

In face-to-face discourse, pragmatic gestures commonly rely on the same embodied concepts that structure thought and language (McNeill 1992; Müller 2004; Sweetser 1998). While gestures that serve to control discourse events have been noted (Kendon 1995, 2004; Calbris 1990), the majority of pragmatic gesture research emphasizes communicative cooperation and inclusion (Bavelas et al. 1992, 1995; Kendon 1995, 2004; Müller 2004).

Based on an analysis of 28 minutes of political debate, this study proposes a distinction between two types of pragmatic gestures that manage discourse interaction (Discourse Management Gestures; DMGs, henceforth): those that serve inclusive-cooperative functions and those that serve control functions. Moreover, the data analysis reveals that both DMG types frequently rely on metaphoric construals of communicative force as physical force and communicative space as physical space. To acquire a better understanding of the form and function of DMGs that rely on such metaphoric construals, they are (i) distinguished from non-metaphoric and conventionalized gestures, and (ii) analyzed for their underlying force-dynamic construals (Talmy 1981, 1988). Moreover, the data analysis reveals that metaphoric, force-dynamic DMGs are used with much higher frequency (96%) than non-metaphoric (1%) and conventionalized (3%) DMGs. Probable reasons for this phenomenon are discussed in terms of the embodied concepts that guide our understanding of face-to-face communication and different types thereof, such as amicable conversation and argument.

Elisabeth Wehling, Ph.D., is a researcher in Cognitive Science & Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley and the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley. She conducts research on the embodied and conceptual bases of political framing, morality, and gesture.