Language, Gesture and Narrative in Modern South Arabian Languages: A preliminary exploration of the use of co-speech gesture accompanying spatial and non-spatial language

Speakers: Dr Jack Wilson (University of Salford) & Professor Janet Watson (University of Leeds)
When: Weds 23rd May (1-2pm)
Where: Parkinson SR (4.20)

Abstract: The structure of co-speech gesture closely correlates with the syntactic organisation of a coarticulated spoken language. Studies have shown that the realisation of semantic features in speech is temporally aligned with gesture (Kita and Özyürek, 2003). For example, languages (e.g., see (1)) that include MANNER information in verbs tend to co-occur with gestures that conflate MANNER and PATH information. However, languages (see (2a.) and (2b.)) where MANNER information is realised as a separate phrase tend to co-occur with two gestures one depicting PATH and one depicting MANNER.
(1) He rolls down the hill.
a. Japanese
[korogat-te] [saka-o kudaru]
roll-Connective slope-Accusative descend:Present
‘‘(s/he) descends the slope, as (s/he) rolls.’’
b. Turkish
[yuvarlan-arak] [cadde-den iniyor]
roll-Connective street-Ablative descend:Present
‘‘(s/he) descends on the street, as (s/he) rolls.’’

This finding has been used as evidence for a model of language production where gesture interfaces speech production in a pre-linguistic and automatic fashion. Investigating gesture, therefore, can be used to explore the language-specific organisation of thought. In previous work, we have shown that there is a correlation between syntactic constructions in Mehri and Śḥerɛ̄t (two modern South Arabian languages spoken in Oman) and the co-occurrence of certain gestures (Watson and Wilson, 2017). In this presentation we explore the use of gesture during narrative, rather than spatial descriptions, outlining the effect of metaphorical spatial language (e.g., “min Thaar” which literally translates as “from on top” but is used in narratives as “next”) on gesture production.

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