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Journal Article

Types of iconicity and combinatorial strategies distinguish semantic categories in silent gesture


Ozyurek,  Asli
Multimodal Language and Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, External Organizations;
Research Associates, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Ortega, G., & Ozyurek, A. (2020). Types of iconicity and combinatorial strategies distinguish semantic categories in silent gesture. Language and Cognition, 12(1), 84-113. doi:10.1017/langcog.2019.28.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-B00C-8
In this study we explore whether different types of iconic gestures
(i.e., acting, drawing, representing) and their combinations are used
systematically to distinguish between different semantic categories in
production and comprehension. In Study 1, we elicited silent gestures
from Mexican and Dutch participants to represent concepts from three
semantic categories: actions, manipulable objects, and non-manipulable
objects. Both groups favoured the acting strategy to represent actions and
manipulable objects; while non-manipulable objects were represented
through the drawing strategy. Actions elicited primarily single gestures
whereas objects elicited combinations of different types of iconic gestures
as well as pointing. In Study 2, a different group of participants were
shown gestures from Study 1 and were asked to guess their meaning.
Single-gesture depictions for actions were more accurately guessed than
for objects. Objects represented through two-gesture combinations (e.g.,
acting + drawing) were more accurately guessed than objects represented
with a single gesture. We suggest iconicity is exploited to make direct
links with a referent, but when it lends itself to ambiguity, individuals
resort to combinatorial structures to clarify the intended referent.
Iconicity and the need to communicate a clear signal shape the structure
of silent gestures and this in turn supports comprehension.