Categorizing Recurrent Gestures: Lessons from Discourse Markers

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


This talk will start with a brief overview of the relationship between speech and gesture and will then propose an alternative categorization of gestures based on my work with both native and non-native speakers of various languages.
Gestures, spontaneous hand and movements co-occurring with speech (McNeill, 1992), are a –mostly ignored– window into speakers’ thinking processes, although they are recognised as both communicative and cognitive resources (Duncan 1972; Goldin-Meadow and McNeill 1999; Goldin-Meadow 2001; Gullberg 2008; Kita 2000;Stam 2006). Classifying gestures can be subjective at times, so most studies have focused on the more obvious referential gestures that seem to illustrate the content of the speech. However, when observing speakers gestures, many seem not to be have a lexical affiliate. What are they for then?
Gesture classification typically refers to the work of McNeill (1992), itself based on prior classifications suggested by Efron (1941) and by Ekman and Friesen (1969). Although the importance of gestures in rhetoric was noted as early as 90AD by Quintilian (90AD/1920, XI, III), McNeill’s gesture classification is based on the form and movement of the hand/arm and its relationship with the verbal referent, spanning a continuum from sign language to ‘gestures’. This categorization has favoured a semantic approach to gesture analysis, focusing on referential gestures, those providing an illustration, iconic or metaphoric, of the speech content. Which in turn has meant side-lining gestures with discursive functions.
Müller (2018) has recently proposed a re-categorization of gestures. She suggests a subcategorization of referential gestures into: re-enacting, drawing, moulding, representing or pointing to the speech content. In addition she adds ‘recurrent’ gestures (Ladewig, 2013) to the continuum. These are, mostly, pragmatic gestures that recur in different contexts and speakers, sharing form and meaning. We would like to suggest taking a further look at these, mostly rhetoric gestures, whose functions –to inform, persuade, motivate– seem to closely mirror the pragmatic functions of discourse markers. Thus, in this talk we will describe a framework for these gestures following one developed for discourse markers that divides them by cognitive, interactive or metadiscursive function (Borreguero Zuloaga, 2015).
Held atInternational Society for Gesture Studies - HK, Hong Kong
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Gestures
  • Pragmatics