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When interlocutors get pushy: Space management gestures and communicative force

Eva Elisabeth Wehling (UCB)

Friday, May 18th
Buchanan A201

Research shows that pragmatic gestures often rely on the same embodied concepts that structure thought and language (McNeil 1992; Müller 2004; Sweetser 1998). Pragmatic gestures that serve to control discourse events have been noted (Kendon 1995, 2004; Calbris 1990), and the majority of pragmatic gesture research emphasizes communicative cooperation and inclusion (Bavelas et al. 1992, 1995; Kendon 1995, 2004; Müller 2004). This study proposes a differentiation between pragmatic gestures that are grounded in spatial and force-dynamic reasoning (Talmy 1981, 1988, 2000), and gestures that do not directly relate to embodied notions of force and space, such as manual citing gestures (inclusive-cooperative) and facial disapproval gestures (controlling).

Based on an analysis of 30 minutes audiovisual recordings of political debate, it is shown that gestures that are based on embodied notions of force and space are used more frequently to control a discourse event than those who are not (such as a disapproving facial gesture) as well as non-embodied ones (conventionalized gestures).

Control gestures that are based on embodied notions of space and force are used in both argumentative and conversational discourse. However, the handling of space and force displays clear differences between argument and conversation. The analysis of the data shows that amicable conversational control gestures that have been reported (Müller 2004; Bavelas et al. 1992, 1995; Özyürek 2002; Sweetser & Sizemore 2008; Ladewig 2011) make, depending on communicative context, between 14% and 20% of the control gestures used in argumentative discourse.

Therefore, a scalar typology of pragmatic gestures that organize speaker interaction on the basis of force dynamics and spatial reasoning is proposed.

(See the attached PDF for references)

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