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How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Conversational Hand Gestures
Unformatted Document Text:  17 was mutually understood how the whirlygig was launched, and now the gesture was portraying “catching the whirlygig”, “catching” would be the most salient feature of the gesture: Gesture 9: “And you just twirl it and catch it, that’s the idea.” During gesture 9, the speaker portrayed a tiny version of the rubbing action required to launch the toy, followed by a life-sized, precise catching motion. The gesture served the communicative function of portraying “catching”. The size of the “catching” aspect of the gesture made this information more salient than the launching action portrayed immediately before it. Participants used various strategies for making features salient. Within depictions of the whole whirlygig action, they exaggerated the important feature (perhaps making it larger than life), made it very precise, or drew attention to it with an extra movement. Sometimes they abstracted the particular salient feature entirely from the whole so that the feature stood on its own. As in gesture 9, if one aspect (such as “catching”) was made particularly salient, the other aspects (such as the rest of the required action) would appear less prominent. Participants drew attention away from the less important aspects of the gesture by truncating them, making them “sloppily”, or by eliminating them altogether. Apparent sloppiness seemed to be a way of blurring one given part of the gesture in order to highlight the more important new part being described. The contrast between clear, precise gestural depictions and ones that appear to be sloppy has a connection with spoken language, specifically with the concept of given and new information, and how speakers uses variations in prosody to mark each type. Previous research on gestures in terms of given and new information is limited to their presence or absence. Examples of this research are the aforementioned presence of gestures marking new information

Authors: Gerwing, Jennifer.
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17
was mutually understood how the whirlygig was launched, and now the gesture was portraying
“catching the whirlygig”, “catching” would be the most salient feature of the gesture:
Gesture 9: “And you just twirl it and catch it, that’s the idea.”
During gesture 9, the speaker portrayed a tiny version of the rubbing action required to launch
the toy, followed by a life-sized, precise catching motion. The gesture served the communicative
function of portraying “catching”. The size of the “catching” aspect of the gesture made this
information more salient than the launching action portrayed immediately before it.
Participants used various strategies for making features salient. Within depictions of the
whole whirlygig action, they exaggerated the important feature (perhaps making it larger than
life), made it very precise, or drew attention to it with an extra movement. Sometimes they
abstracted the particular salient feature entirely from the whole so that the feature stood on its
own.
As in gesture 9, if one aspect (such as “catching”) was made particularly salient, the other
aspects (such as the rest of the required action) would appear less prominent. Participants drew
attention away from the less important aspects of the gesture by truncating them, making them
“sloppily”, or by eliminating them altogether. Apparent sloppiness seemed to be a way of
blurring one given part of the gesture in order to highlight the more important new part being
described.
The contrast between clear, precise gestural depictions and ones that appear to be sloppy
has a connection with spoken language, specifically with the concept of given and new
information, and how speakers uses variations in prosody to mark each type. Previous research
on gestures in terms of given and new information is limited to their presence or absence.
Examples of this research are the aforementioned presence of gestures marking new information


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