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How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Conversational Hand Gestures
Unformatted Document Text:  3 How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Gestures Every day, we use our hands to perform many different functions in the world. First, our hands help us to carry out tasks, such as doing all the chores involved in making dinner. One of these tasks might be cutting the vegetables. Then, after dinner, we might tell a friend about our brilliant cutting technique. To do this we probably use our hands to produce gestures in order to make our verbal explanation understandable. These conversational gestures are the second thing our hands can do. The gesture I might use to demonstrate cutting carrots is not intended to accomplish any actual cutting. My gesture is simply a re-enactment, and its function is to communicate, rather than to accomplish something in the world. The physical forms of the action and the gesture are alike, but not identical. Gestures are symbols in the sense that “a symbol is something that stands for something else” (Quine, 1987). Bavelas and Chovil (Bavelas & Chovil, 2000) noted that gestures are symbols that are encoded in ways that are analogic, that is, they resemble their referents. For example, a gesture representing chopping will resemble actual chopping. However, even though the gesture is like what it represents, it is not equal to what it represents. Our gestural chopping does not actually cut any carrots. The chopping gestures stand for actual chopping. Gesture researchers often assume that gestures are symbolic, characterizing gestures as communicative behaviors that have referents (Weiner, Devoe, Rubiow, & Geller, 1972); as “referential symbols” that exhibit meaning (McNeill, 1985, 1992); as representing “aspects of experience”, “spatial arrangements”, “visual appearance”, or “unique features” (Kendon, 1985); as demonstrations with referents that can be events, states, processes, or objects (Clark & Gerrig, 1990); and as being symbolic hand movements that speakers use to communicate about actions formerly accomplished or observed (LeBaron & Streeck, 2000).

Authors: Gerwing, Jennifer.
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3
How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Gestures
Every day, we use our hands to perform many different functions in the world. First, our
hands help us to carry out tasks, such as doing all the chores involved in making dinner. One of
these tasks might be cutting the vegetables. Then, after dinner, we might tell a friend about our
brilliant cutting technique. To do this we probably use our hands to produce gestures in order to
make our verbal explanation understandable. These conversational gestures are the second thing
our hands can do. The gesture I might use to demonstrate cutting carrots is not intended to
accomplish any actual cutting. My gesture is simply a re-enactment, and its function is to
communicate, rather than to accomplish something in the world. The physical forms of the action
and the gesture are alike, but not identical. Gestures are symbols in the sense that “a symbol is
something that stands for something else” (Quine, 1987). Bavelas and Chovil (Bavelas & Chovil,
2000) noted that gestures are symbols that are encoded in ways that are analogic, that is, they
resemble their referents. For example, a gesture representing chopping will resemble actual
chopping. However, even though the gesture is like what it represents, it is not equal to what it
represents. Our gestural chopping does not actually cut any carrots. The chopping gestures stand
for actual chopping.
Gesture researchers often assume that gestures are symbolic, characterizing gestures as
communicative behaviors that have referents (Weiner, Devoe, Rubiow, & Geller, 1972); as
“referential symbols” that exhibit meaning (McNeill, 1985, 1992); as representing “aspects of
experience”, “spatial arrangements”, “visual appearance”, or “unique features” (Kendon, 1985);
as demonstrations with referents that can be events, states, processes, or objects (Clark & Gerrig,
1990); and as being symbolic hand movements that speakers use to communicate about actions
formerly accomplished or observed (LeBaron & Streeck, 2000).


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