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How Given and New Information Shape the Form of Conversational Hand Gestures
Unformatted Document Text:  4 When we use gestures to demonstrate an action, we must be selective in our choice of movements. If we are being selective, the gestures will look different from the referent actions. Clark and Gerrig (1990) suggested that one feature of demonstrations is their depictive aspect. Depictive aspects of gestures are the parts that distinguish the intended referent (in our example, “holding the knife”) from other possible referents (perhaps “positioning the cutting board”). We wouldn’t want our addressee to think that we were re-enacting the way we place the cutting board when in fact we were re-enacting the way we hold the knife. In gesturing, we will select the most salient features of the action we wish to depict (perhaps the grip and angle of holding), in order to ensure that our gesture’s referent will be clear. We will also be economical with our gesture, leaving out any extraneous actions that might obscure our communicative purpose. Besides being selective, gestures also require a degree of abstraction. The way we move our hands to gesture, for instance, will not be exactly the same as the previously executed action. A gesture could not accomplish what the action did because the two have different purposes: the action “does” and the gesture “communicates”. We might use our hands to pretend we are holding the knife and cutting with it. We will transform our previously performed actions into gestures that will best facilitate understanding. We may, for example, make just a few quick up- and-down cutting motion gestures, rather than the actual number that were necessary to dice our carrots. Transforming Actions to Symbols Some interesting research questions flow from an assumption that gestures are symbolic. The first is to identify precisely what a gesture symbolizes, and a second is to begin to attempt to discover the process by which a gesture becomes a symbol. That is, what is transpiring during

Authors: Gerwing, Jennifer.
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When we use gestures to demonstrate an action, we must be selective in our choice of
movements. If we are being selective, the gestures will look different from the referent actions.
Clark and Gerrig (1990) suggested that one feature of demonstrations is their depictive aspect.
Depictive aspects of gestures are the parts that distinguish the intended referent (in our example,
“holding the knife”) from other possible referents (perhaps “positioning the cutting board”). We
wouldn’t want our addressee to think that we were re-enacting the way we place the cutting
board when in fact we were re-enacting the way we hold the knife. In gesturing, we will select
the most salient features of the action we wish to depict (perhaps the grip and angle of holding),
in order to ensure that our gesture’s referent will be clear. We will also be economical with our
gesture, leaving out any extraneous actions that might obscure our communicative purpose.
Besides being selective, gestures also require a degree of abstraction. The way we move
our hands to gesture, for instance, will not be exactly the same as the previously executed action.
A gesture could not accomplish what the action did because the two have different purposes: the
action “does” and the gesture “communicates”. We might use our hands to pretend we are
holding the knife and cutting with it. We will transform our previously performed actions into
gestures that will best facilitate understanding. We may, for example, make just a few quick up-
and-down cutting motion gestures, rather than the actual number that were necessary to dice our
carrots.
Transforming Actions to Symbols
Some interesting research questions flow from an assumption that gestures are symbolic.
The first is to identify precisely what a gesture symbolizes, and a second is to begin to attempt to
discover the process by which a gesture becomes a symbol. That is, what is transpiring during


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