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How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Conversational Hand Gestures
Unformatted Document Text:  18 and absence of gestures marking old (Levy & Fowler, 2000), and speakers’ use of rhythmic hand movements marking new in contrast to given information in certain discourse contexts (McNeill, 1992). The focus in this paper is more precise. It is closely linked with the previously mentioned speech practices of using prosodic markers such as stress to mark information or shortening words, sometimes to the point of unintelligibility to mark given information. The specific focus is in systematic changes in gestures with the same referent over the course of the dialogue. Can the changes in the visual appearance of the gestures (eg., emphasis or shortening) be accounted for by the division of information within the gesture as given or new? The following example illustrates this analogy: Gesture 10: “Oh, it went up actually.” The gesture in this depiction was a tiny whirlygig launching action with the hands in a less parallel orientation than previous gestures, followed by one hand pointing and moving straight up. The whirlygig action was small and not precise, but the pointing was large and clear. The attenuation of the launching action and emphasis of the pointing action are analogous to the prosodic features marking given and new information discussed earlier. The communicative function of this particular gesture was to clarify that the whirlygig flew up. The interlocutors had already established how to launch the whirlygig. Aspects that are given do not need to be as salient, and therefore can fade into the background of a gesture. However, those that depict new information would need to be made most salient and would therefore tend to be in the gesture’s foreground. Given information provided a framework the addressee could use to understand the new information: in my examples, that the toy flew up (gesture 10) or could be caught (gesture 9). When there were successive depictions of the whirlygig, the gestures changed as a function of which information was given and which was new.

Authors: Gerwing, Jennifer.
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18
and absence of gestures marking old (Levy & Fowler, 2000), and speakers’ use of rhythmic hand
movements marking new in contrast to given information in certain discourse contexts (McNeill,
1992). The focus in this paper is more precise. It is closely linked with the previously mentioned
speech practices of using prosodic markers such as stress to mark information or shortening
words, sometimes to the point of unintelligibility to mark given information. The specific focus
is in systematic changes in gestures with the same referent over the course of the dialogue. Can
the changes in the visual appearance of the gestures (eg., emphasis or shortening) be accounted
for by the division of information within the gesture as given or new? The following example
illustrates this analogy:
Gesture 10: “Oh, it went up actually.”
The gesture in this depiction was a tiny whirlygig launching action with the hands in a
less parallel orientation than previous gestures, followed by one hand pointing and moving
straight up. The whirlygig action was small and not precise, but the pointing was large and clear.
The attenuation of the launching action and emphasis of the pointing action are analogous to the
prosodic features marking given and new information discussed earlier. The communicative
function of this particular gesture was to clarify that the whirlygig flew up. The interlocutors had
already established how to launch the whirlygig. Aspects that are given do not need to be as
salient, and therefore can fade into the background of a gesture. However, those that depict new
information would need to be made most salient and would therefore tend to be in the gesture’s
foreground. Given information provided a framework the addressee could use to understand the
new information: in my examples, that the toy flew up (gesture 10) or could be caught (gesture
9). When there were successive depictions of the whirlygig, the gestures changed as a function of
which information was given and which was new.


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