ArgLab • Colloquium

Alan Cienki

Pragmatic functions of gesture on different levels

The movements people make with their hands when talking have been shown to serve many functions, such as deictic reference (Kita 2003), or depiction of forms of referents (Müller 1998; Streeck 2008). A variety of the functions do not have to do with the referents per se in the speech accompanying the gestures, but rather with factors such as adding emphasis to what is being said, distinguishing one idea as being different from another, or indicating the speaker’s stance towards what is being talked about (Kendon 2004). Such discourse- structuring and pragmatic functions have been argued to consist of sets of gestural patterns (form-function pairings) that recur across speakers of a given culture. While such “recurrent gestures” (Bressem & Müller 2014) can be used singly as needed, other research has pointed out that speakers sometimes intermittently repeat the use of a gesture form, or a specific location for gesturing, in a way which serves a secondary function of connecting ideas across a stretch of discourse (“catchments” as per McNeill et al. 2001). Furthermore, recent work has considered the role of using a series of gestures in a stretch of discourse, in what can be called a gesture chain (Kibrik & Fedorova 2020). In an examination of gesture use by lawyers making opening statements in criminal trials in US courts, Leonteva (in progress) argues that the individual gestures in such a chain also take on an additional functional layer, involving pragmatic and discourse-related functions that differ from those found with catchments. In this colloquium, we will consider these various uses of gesture and their layers of functions, and also address the issue of what one may miss pragmatically when only hearing speakers talk without also seeing them move.


Alan Cienki, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Moscow State Linguistic
University (Russia)