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The Role of Speech-Related Arm/Hand Gestures in Word Retrieval

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The Role of Speech-Related Arm/Hand
Gestures in Word Retrieval
Robert M. Krauss
Columbia University
and
Uri Hadar
Tel Aviv University
Note: This is a pre-editing version of a chapter that appeared in
R. Campbell & L. Messing (Eds.), Gesture, speech, and sign (93-
116). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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INTRODUCTION
The traditional view that gestures play an important role in communication is so
widespread and well-entrenched that comparatively little research has been
done to assess the magnitude of their contribution, or to determine the kinds of
information different types of gestures convey. Reviewing such evidence as
exists, Kendon has concluded:
The gestures that people produce when they talk do play a part in
communication and they do provide information to co-participants about
the semantic content of the utterances, although there clearly is variation
about when and how they do so (Kendon 1994, p. 192).
However, other researchers, considering the same studies, have concluded that
the available evidence is both inconclusive and equally consistent with the view
that the gestural contribution to communication is, on the whole, negligible
(Feyereisen and deLannoy 1991; Rimé and Schiaratura, 1991; Krauss et al 1995).
Below we will examine in some detail the question of whether gestures
communicate.
One reason that gestures are so often ascribed a communicative function
may be that it is not obvious what other functions they might serve. Actually,
over the past half-century several have been suggested. For example, noting
that people often gesture when they are having difficulty retrieving elusive
words from memory, Dittmann and Llewelyn (1969) have suggested that at least
some gestures may be functional in dissipating the tension that accumulates
during lexical search. Dittmann and Llewelyn assume that the failure to retrieve
a sought-after word is frustrating, and that the tensions generated by such
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frustration could interfere with the speaker's ability to produce coherent speech;
hand movements provide a means for dissipating excess energy and frustration.
Other investigators have remarked on the cooccurrence of gestures and
hesitation pauses (Freedman and Hoffman 1967; Butterworth and Beattie 1978;
Christenfeld et al. 1991), although they have not attributed the gestures to
tension management. The tension reduction hypothesis has never been tested
experimentally, but there is little doubt that gesturing and word retrieval failures
co-occur (Ragsdale and Silva 1982; Hadar and Butterworth 1997).
The possibility that gesturing occurs during hesitation because it plays a
direct role in the process of lexical retrieval has been suggested by a strikingly
diverse group of scholars over the last 75 years (DeLaguna 1927; Dobrogaev
1929; Mead 1934; Werner and Kaplan 1963; Freedman and Hoffman 1967;
Moscovici, 1967). Although the idea is not a new one, the details of the process
by which gestures might affect lexical access are both grossly underspecified and
underconstrained by the available data.
In this chapter, we will first examine, from a conceptual and empirical
perspective, the assumption that the primary role of gestures is communicative;
we will conclude that their contribution to communication is relatively small. We
will then consider evidence bearing on the possibility that they play a facilitative
role in lexical retrieval, and conclude that there is some support for this idea.
Next, we will propose a cognitive architecture that is consistent with the
available evidence and accounts both for gesture production and for the
facilitative effects of gestures on lexical retrieval. Finally, we will discuss
specifications of the general model and, with them, possible linkages between
the speech and the gesture systems.
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Gesture and Communication
Do gestures serve a communicative function? Any answer to this question must
implicitly or explicitly assume a definition of communication, but, generally
speaking, discussions of gestural communicativeness have avoided addressing
some of the thorny conceptual issues that arise in formulating such a definition.
Space considerations preclude us from considering them in detail (see Krauss
and Fussell 1996 for a more extended discussion), but a few points will serve to
outline our argument: People use both symbols and signs to convey
information, but the two kinds of signals convey information in importantly
different ways. The difference corresponds to the distinction Grice (1957) draws
between 'natural' and 'non-natural' meanings. Natural meanings are
comprehended by virtue of a causal connection between the sign and what it is
understood to mean, while non-natural meanings are comprehended by virtue
of an understanding of the conventions that govern symbol use.
1
Although
there is hardly anything resembling a consensus on the details of the process, a
fair amount is understood about the way linguistic communication is
accomplished, and there seems to be general agreement on two points:
First, as regards language use, it is assumed that communication involves
exchanges of intended meanings. In order for a linguistic message to be
communicative, (a) the speaker must intend the message to create some
particular effect (i.e., a belief) in the addressee; and (b) the speaker must intend
that effect to result from the addressee's recognition of the intention. Levinson
1
We are using the term ‘sign’ in the traditional semiotic sense—i.e., a display that is causally
related to its significance or meaning. Another quite different sense of ‘sign’ (as in ‘sign
language’) is reflected in the way the term is used in this book's title and elsewhere.
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puts it succinctly: '…communication is a complex kind of intention that is achieved or
satisfied just by being recognized' (Levinson 1983, p. 18).
Second, it is assumed that language use is a joint activity in which the
parties collaborate to produce shared meanings. From this perspective, a
conversation can be viewed as a series of discursively-related contributions in
which speakers and hearers take pains to ensure that they have similar
conceptions of the meaning of each message before they proceed to the next
one.
Unlike symbols, signs do not need to be performed with the intention of
creating a particular effect in order to have that effect, and they do not require
the addressee to recognize an intention in order to convey information.
Sperber and Wilson (1986) nicely illustrate the distinction with the example of a
woman who has a sore throat and wishes to inform someone of this fact. She
could accomplish this by saying 'I have a sore throat,' but the information could
equally well be conveyed simply by saying anything, and allowing the listener to
infer her condition from her hoarse voice. In the former case, in which the
information is conveyed linguistically, the speaker's intention is critical, while in
the second, her intention to convey the information is irrelevant.
One way of defining communication is as information that has been
conveyed in accordance with the intentionality and joint action criteria, Thus
defined, communication would include most instances of language use, the use
of such symbolic gestures or emblems as the thumbs-up sign, and certain deictic
gestures. It would exclude sign behaviors such as a hoarse voice or blushing,
which, although they unquestionably convey information, do so in a different
fashion. The question we address is: Would it include what Kendon (1994) calls
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'the gestures that people produce when they talk,'—what McNeill (1992) calls
'representational gestures' and we have called 'lexical gestures'?
Kendon and others (see Schegloff 1984; de Ruiter in press) contend that it
would. They argue that speakers partition the information that constitutes their
communicative intentions, choosing to convey some of it verbally in the spoken
message, some of it visibly via gesture, facial expression, etc., and some of it in
both modalities. For example, Kendon (1980) describes a speaker saying '…with
a big cake on it…' while making a series of circular motions of the forearm with
the index finger extended pointing downward. Kendon would have the speaker
intending to convey the idea that the cake was both large and round, and
choosing to convey ROUND gesturally rather than verbally.
Although there is nothing implausible about Kendon's interpretation, it is
unclear from his description of the episode that the speaker's behavior satisfies
the intentionality and joint activity criteria. Since it was explicitly included in the
utterance, it's reasonable to assume that the idea of the cake being large was part
of the speaker's communicative intention, presumably because it was
discursively relevant. Can we assume this is also the case about its being round?
Such an assumption would need to be justified with other evidence (perhaps
from elsewhere in the narrative), but the mere fact that the gesture occurred and
is interpretable in context is insufficient to demonstrate that it was
communicatively intended.
Something we saw in one of our own experiments suggests how
misleading such observations can be. In that experiment subjects learned the
definitions of arcane words, and were later videotaped as they tried to recall the
definitions. One of the words was 'deasil', which means 'to move in a clockwise
direction'. All 14 of the subjects who remembered the word's definition made a
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rotary movement of the index finger as they defined it. It seems reasonable to
regard the gesture as intended to aid the listener. However, for all but one
speaker, the rotation was clockwise relative to the speaker; that is to say, from the
addressee's perspective, the movement was counterclockwise, hence
misleading.
2
It is instructive to compare the subjects' behavior in this situation to
what speakers do when they formulate spatial descriptions verbally. According
to Schober (1993, 1995) speakers formulating referring expressions about
locations overwhelmingly formulate them from the perspective of the
addressee. The fact that most of the speech-accompanying gestures in our
experiment were formulated from the speaker's perspective raises questions
about the glib assumption that they were intended in the same way the elements
of an utterance are intended. Clearly, if they were so intended, they were
defective from the addressee's perspective.
Overall, empirical evidence for the communicativeness of gestures is at
best equivocal. Experimental findings indicate that, on average, lexical gestures
convey relatively little information (Feyereisen et al. 1988; Krauss et al. 1991,
experiments 1 and 2), and that the extent to which they influence the semantic
interpretation of utterances is negligible (Krauss et al. 1991, experiment 5).
Moreover, adding a speaker's gestures to his/her voice does not enhance
listeners' performance on a referential communication task, in which it is
possible to measure how well a message accomplishes its intended purpose
(Krauss et al. 1995).
Three studies (Graham and Argyle 1975; Rogers 1978; Riseborough 1981)
are often cited as providing empirical support for the hypothesis that hand
2
We are grateful to Stephen Krieger and Lisa Son for sharing this observation with us, and to
Lauren Michelle Walsh, who coded the gestures.
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gestures serve a communicative function, at least in highly specific
circumstances. All three purport to find small, but statistically reliable,
performance increments on tests of information (e.g., reproduction of a figure
from a description; answering questions about an object on the basis of a
description) for listeners who could see a speaker's gestures, compared to those
who could not, suggesting that the gestures enhanced the effectiveness of the
communication. However, all three studies suffer from serious methodological
problems, and we believe that little can be concluded from them.
Graham and Argyle (1975) had 6 speakers describe abstract line drawings
to a small audience of listeners who tried to reproduce them. On half of the
trials, speakers were prevented from gesturing. Listeners reproduced the
figures more accurately from descriptions given when speakers were allowed to
gesture. However, the design of the experiment does not control for the
possibility that speakers who were allowed to gesture produced better verbal
descriptions of the stimuli, which, in turn, enabled their audiences to reproduce
the figures more accurately, quite apart from any information conveyed by the
gestures. The Riseborough study found an effect of gesturing for only one of
three stimuli, and it is not clear that the relevant contrast was statistically reliable.
Rogers found that subjects who viewed-and-heard videotaped descriptions of
novel actions scored better on multiple choice tests of information than did
subjects who only heard the audio track. However, the result was found only
when a relatively high level of noise (signal-to-noise ratios of -3 and -8 dB) was
added to the audio track; with more favorable signal-to-noise ratios (+2 and +7
dB), seeing the speaker had no demonstrable effect on communication. Rogers
also did not adequately control for the 'speech-reading effect'—the well
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established finding that seeing a speaker's lips contributes to the intelligibility of
speech (Sumby and Pollack 1954).
More recently, McNeill et al. (1994) have found that gestural information
that differed from the information conveyed by the accompanying speech
tended to be reflected in listeners' later retellings of the narrative, suggesting
that speech and gesture information were combined in memory. This study
seems to provide a clear demonstration that at least some gestures contribute to
listeners' comprehension, but it is not without problems. In our experience,
speech-gesture mismatches of the kind used by McNeill et al. are relatively rare
in adult speech; in the study the mismatches were enacted simulations rather
than naturally-occurring events. But even if we accept these results at face value,
the communicative contribution of the overwhelming majority of the non-
mismatched gestures that accompany spontaneous speech still remains to be
established
The fact that speakers gesture more often when they can see their
addressees than when they cannot (Cohen and Harrison 1972; Cohen, 1977;
Rimé, 1982; Bavelas et al. 1992; Krauss et al. 1995) is sometimes cited as evidence
that the gestures are communicatively intended (Cohen and Harrison 1972;
Kendon, 1994). Certainly it is weak evidence at best, since speakers do gesture
when their listeners cannot see them. Are the gestures speakers make when
they are visually inaccessible different from the ones they make when they can
be seen? Not much research has been directed to this question; the little we
know of suggests that they are not. Krauss et al. (in preparation) coded the
grammatical types of 12,425 gestural lexical affiliates (i.e., the word or words in
the accompanying speech associated with the gesture) from an experiment in
which subjects described stimuli to a partner who was either seated face-to-face
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or in another room. The grammatical categories of gestural lexical affiliates for
the two conditions did not differ, suggesting that speakers gestured at the same
points in their narratives regardless of whether or not they could be seen by
their partners.
De Ruiter (in press) argues that the occurrence of gesturing by speakers
who cannot be seen, and findings that gestures have relatively little
communicative value, do not reduce the plausibility of the idea that such
gestures are communicatively intended.
Gesture may well be intended by the speaker to communicate, and fail to
do so in some or even most cases. The fact that people gesture on the
telephone is also not necessarily in conflict with the view that gestures are
generally intended to be communicative. It is conceivable that people
gesture on the telephone because they always gesture when they speak
spontaneously—they simply cannot suppress it (p. $$).
Although the idea that such gestures reflect overlearned habits is not
implausible, the contention that they are both communicatively intended and
largely ineffective runs counter to a modern understanding of how language
(and other behaviors) function in communication. De Ruiter's view implicitly
conceptualizes participants as 'autonomous information processors' (Brennan
1991). Such a view stands in sharp contrast with what Clark (1996) and his
colleagues have called a 'collaborative' model of language use. In this view,
communicative exchange is a joint accomplishment of the participants who work
together to achieve some set of communicative goals. From the collaborative
perspective, communication requires that speakers and hearers endeavor to
ensure they have similar conceptions of the meaning of each message before
they proceed to the next one. The idea that some element of a message is
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communicatively intended, but consistently goes uncomprehended, violates
what Clark and Wilkes-Gibbs (1986) have termed the 'Principle of Mutual
Responsibility'.
We believe that symbolic (emblematic) gestures, deictic gestures, and the
kind of gestural activity that Clark has termed 'demonstrations' are, as a rule,
both communicatively intended and communicatively effective. The question we
raise is whether there is adequate justification for assuming that all or most co-
speech gestures are so intended. We believe there is not. No doubt lexical
gestures occasionally are intentionally performed, and it seems likely that some
do convey information regardless of whether or not they were so intended by
the speaker. However, considering, on the one hand, the amount of gesturing
that often accompanies speech, and, on the other hand, the paucity of the
information gestures seem to convey, it seems to us reasonable to ask whether
gestures might be serving some other function.
The question of the functions lexical gestures serve has important
implications for models of gesture production. If gestures are communicatively
intended in the way utterances are, it seems reasonable to suppose that they
share some stages of the production process with speech. If they are not,
gesture and speech could have different sources. If gestures facilitate lexical
retrieval, the speech production system and the gesture production system must
interact. If they do not, the two systems could function autonomously.
Gesture and Word Retrieval
If hand gestures do not serve a communicative function, why would speakers
bother to make them? One possibility is that they play a role in speech
production. Empirical support for this notion is mixed. In the earliest published
study, Dobrogaev (1929) reported that speakers instructed to curb facial
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expressions, head movements, and gestural movements of the extremities found
it difficult to produce articulate speech, but the experiment appears to have
lacked the necessary controls. As was common in that era, Dobrogaev's report
fails to describe procedural details, and presents his results in impressionistic,
qualitative terms. More recently, Graham and Heywood (1975) analyzed the
speech of five speakers who were prevented from gesturing as they described
abstract line drawings, and concluded that '… elimination of gesture had no
particularly marked effects on speech performance' (p. 194). On the other hand,
Rimé (1982) and Rauscher et al. (1996) found that restricting gesturing adversely
affects speech fluency. The Rauscher et al. study is especially relevant to our
hypothesis that gestures facilitate access to lexical memory, because the effects of
preventing gesturing on speech were found to be similar to the effects of
making word retrieval difficult by other means (e.g., requiring subjects to use
rare or unusual words).
More evidence supporting the association of gesture with word retrieval
difficulties comes from studies with brain-damaged subjects. It has been known
for some time that adult with Broca’s aphasia produce more gestures per unit of
speech than normal controls (Goldblum 1978), but there have been claims that
these gestures were often disrupted in a way that paralleled the speaker's
language disorder (McNeill 1992). In a single-case study, Butterworth et al. (1981)
showed that their aphasic patient tended to gesture prior to a word retrieval
failure (either a hesitation or an erroneous production). More recently, Hadar et
al. (1998b) found that aphasics whose speech problems primarily concerned
word retrieval tended to gesture more than both normal controls and other
aphasics whose problems were primarily conceptual. About 70% of the gestures
of the aphasics with word retrieval difficulties appeared adjacent to a hesitation
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or erroneous production. At the same time, and contrary to the hypothesis of a
gestural deficit, the composition and form of their gestures were normal.
In a very different kind of study, Hanlon et al. (1990) showed that aphasic
patients' word retrieval in a picture naming task could be improved by training
them to perform gestures just prior to their naming attempt.
L
EXICAL, ICONIC AND METAPHORIC GESTURES
In the two sections that follow, we present a model of speech and gesture
production in which the latter supports the former. Our model does not attempt
to account for all speech related gestures, only the subset that we previously
have called 'lexical' (Hadar 1989; Krauss et al. 1995). Lexical gestures are
relatively long, broad and complex arm-hand movements that often have
shapes or dynamics related to the content of the accompanying speech (Hadar et
al. 1998a; 1998b). Other co-speech gestures that typically are short, simple and
repetitive, called 'beats' by McNeill (1992) and 'motor gestures' by Krauss et al.
(in press) do not seem to be involved in lexical search, and probably link to
speech through other systems (Hadar 1989; Butterworth and Hadar 1989).
Discussions of terminological and descriptive aspects of gesture can be found in
Rimé and Schiaratura (1992) and Krauss et al. (in press). Although the nature of
gestural taxonomies is not a settled matter, we do not plan to enter this
discussion here, but instead to address some issues that specifically concern
lexical gestures.
Investigators often partition the movements we are calling lexical
gestures into subcategories, although there is little consensus as to what those
subcategories should include and exclude. Probably the most widely accepted is
the subcategory of 'iconic gestures'—gestures that represent their meanings
pictographically in the sense that the gesture's form is related conceptually to the
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semantic content of the speech it accompanies (Efron 1972). However, not all
lexical gestures are iconic. The proportion of lexical movements that are iconic is
difficult to determine, and probably depends greatly on the conceptual content
of the speech and the flexibility of the standards used to determine iconicity. But
however iconicity is determined, many speech-accompanying movements seem
to have little obvious formal relationship to the conceptual content of the
accompanying speech. What can be said of these gestures? McNeill (1985, 1987,
1992) deals with the problem by drawing a distinction between gestures that are
iconic and gestures that are metaphoric.
Metaphoric gestures exhibit images of abstract concepts. In form and
manner of execution, metaphoric gestures depict the vehicles of
metaphors...The metaphors are independently motivated on the basis of
cultural and linguistic knowledge (McNeill 1985, p. 356).
Despite its widespread acceptance, we have reservations about the utility
of the iconic-metaphoric distinction. Our own observations lead us to conclude
that iconicity is more a matter of degree rather than of kind. While the forms of
some lexical gestures do seem to have a direct and transparent relationship to
the content of the accompanying speech, for others the relationship is more
tenuous, and for still others finding any relationship at all requires a good deal of
imagination on the part of the observer. In our view, it makes more sense to
think of gestures as being more or less iconic rather than either iconic or
metaphoric. Moreover, although it may be possible to judge the iconicity of
gestures fairly reliably, the 'meanings' of such gestures are highly uncertain,
even when viewing them along with the accompanying speech. In the absence
of speech, the meanings of iconic gestures are indeterminate (Feyereisen et al.
1988; Krauss et al. 1991).
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We also find problems with the iconic/metaphoric distinction at the
conceptual level. The argument that metaphoric gestures are produced in the
same way as linguistic metaphors does not help us understand how they are
generated, since our understanding of the processes by which linguistic
metaphors are produced and comprehended is incomplete at best (cf.
Glucksberg 1991; Glucksberg, in press). So identifying such gestures as visual
metaphors may be little more than a way of saying that the nature of their
iconicity is not obvious.
In what ways might such classifications be useful? The idea that a gesture
is iconic provides a principled basis for explaining why it takes the form it does.
Calling a gesture metaphoric can be seen as an attempt to accomplish the same
thing for gestures that lack a formal relationship to the accompanying speech.
However we do not believe that identifying gestures as metaphoric really
accomplishes that goal, and instead will opt for a model formulated at the level
of features as a more satisfactory way of accounting for gestural form.
S
PEECH PRODUCTION
In our model, lexical gestures reflect the use that the speech production system
makes of the gesture production system for word retrieval purposes. Before
describing the gesture production system, we will review our understanding of
the process by which speech is generated. Of course, the nature of speech
production is not uncontroversial, and a variety of production models have been
proposed. Although these models differ in significant ways, for our purposes
their differences are less important than their similarities. Most models
distinguish three successive stages of processing, which Levelt (1989) refers to as
'conceptualizing', 'formulating', and 'articulating' (Garrett 1984; Dell 1986;
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Butterworth 1989). The process is illustrated schematically in Fig. 1 below,
which is based on Levelt (1989). Let us examine the model's stages more closely.
------------------------------------------------------------
Insert Fig. 1 about here
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Conceptualizing involves, among other things, drawing upon declarative
and procedural knowledge to construct a communicative intention. We believe
that initially many memorial representations, in a variety of representational
formats, are activated by contextual triggering and structural
(cognitive/affective) biases. Then a more active process of 'focusing' reduces the
number of activated representations, and forms connections between those
remaining (Sperber and Wilson 1986; Levelt 1989). The output of the
conceptualizing stage—what Levelt refers to as a preverbal message— can be
thought of as a propositional structure containing a set of pragmatic and
semantic specifications (Bierwisch and Schrueder 1992).
This preverbal message constitutes the input to the formulating stage,
where the message is transformed in two ways. First, a grammatical encoder
maps the to-be-lexicalized concept onto an abstract syntactic structure. At the
same time the main lexical entries of the message are selected in the form of a
lemma, i.e., an abstract symbol representing the selected word as a semantic-
syntactic entity. Lemmas are selected whose semantic features match a subset of
the semantic features of the preverbal message. A surface structure is formed by
joining the abstract syntactic structure with the lemmas. Then, by accessing word
forms stored in lexical memory and constructing an appropriate plan for the
utterance's prosody, the phonological encoder transforms this surface structure
into a phonetic plan (essentially a set of instructions to the articulatory system)
that serves as the input to the articulatory stage. The output of the articulatory
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stage is overt speech, which is monitored auditorily and used as a source of
corrective feedback.
G
ESTURE PRODUCTION
Our model makes several assumptions about mental representation and
memory. They are:
(1) Memory employs a number of different formats to represent
knowledge, and much of the contents of memory is multiply encoded
in more than one representational format.
(2) Activation of a concept in one representational format tends to activate
related concepts in other formats.
(3) Concepts differ in how adequately (i.e., efficiently, completely,
accessibly, etc.) they can be represented in one or another format. The
complete mental representation of some concepts may require inputs
from more than one representational format.
(4) Some representations in one format can be translated into the
representational form of another format (e.g., a verbal description can
give rise to visual imagery, and vice versa).
None of these assumptions is particularly controversial, at least at this level of
generality.
In our view, gestures originate in the process that precedes
conceptualization and construction of the preverbal message. That is to say, we
believe their origin precedes the formulation of the speaker's communicative
intention. Consider Kendon’s (1980) aforementioned example of the speaker
saying '…with a big cake on it…' while making a series of circular motions of the
forearm with index finger pointing downward. We assume that the articulated
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word 'cake' derives from a conceptual representation of a particular cake in the
speaker's long-term memory. The preverbal message outputted by the
conceptualizer (and which the grammatical encoder transforms into a linguistic
representation) typically incorporates only a subset of the memorial
representation's features. From the information Kendon gives us, it seems
reasonable to assume that the particular cake the speaker referred to in the
example was large and round. Of course, it also had other properties—color,
flavor, texture, and so on—that might have been mentioned but weren't,
presumably because (unlike the cake's size) they were not relevant to the
speaker's goals in the discourse.
Apropos our earlier discussion of communication, a central theoretical
question is whether or not the information that the cake was round—i.e., the
information contained in the gesture—was part of the speaker's communicative
intention. From his discussion, it is clear that Kendon (1980) assumes that it was.
Our assumption is that it was not. Below we will consider some of the
implications of this assumption.
We follow Levelt in assuming that inputs from the conceptualizing stage
to the formulating stage of the speech processor must be in propositional form.
However, the knowledge that is accessed from memory and becomes
incorporated into the communicative intention may be multiply encoded in
propositional and nonpropositional formats, or even encoded exclusively in
nonpropositional formats. In order for nonpropositionally-encoded knowledge
to be reflected in speech, it must be 'translated' into propositional form.
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Insert Fig. 2 about here
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How do these nonpropositionally-represented features come to be
reflected gesturally? The model is illustrated in Fig. 2. Like the speech
production system, the gesture production system has three stages. In the first
stage, a Spatial/Dynamic Feature Selector takes representations that have been
activated in spatial or visual working memory, selects out elementary spatial
and dynamic features, and renders them as a set of spatial/dynamic specifications.
These specifications are essentially abstract features of movements—velocity,
direction, contour, and the like. This set of abstract features serves as input to
the Motor Planner, which translates them into a motor program —a set of
instructions for executing the lexical gesture. These instructions are then
executed by the Motor System in the form of a gestural movement. Thus
thinking of a particular cake that happened to have been round would activate
the spatial feature ROUND, which is translated into a circling motion by the
Motor Planner. A single gesture may reflect one or more spatial/dynamic
feature. For example, the circling gesture is, at least in principle, capable of
representing both shape and circumference. However, it may be difficult or
impossible to simultaneously incorporate some combinations of features into a
single gesture; for example, if both ROUND and THICK were activated features
of the remembered cake, the gesture might reflect one or the other, but
probably not both.
Once they have been produced, gestures are monitored kinesthetically in
much the same way that the output of the speech production system is
monitored auditorily. We will leave the destination of the kinesthetic monitor's
output to be specified later.
It's not difficult to see in general terms how such a system could generate
gestures from conceptual content that is concrete and spatial (e.g., book, arc) or
KandH6 -20- July 30, 2001
involves movement (e.g., twist, lift), but gesturing also accompanies talk whose
conceptual content is abstract and static. What is the origin of these gestures? In
the first place, it's important to know that gesturing is strongly associated with
speech having spatial content. Speakers describing animated action cartoons
were nearly five times more likely to gesture during clauses containing spatial
prepositions than they were elsewhere (Rauscher et al. 1996). Zhang (reported
in Krauss et al. in preparation) measured the proportion of time speakers spent
gesturing as they defined a variety of common words. Ratings of word-
concepts' 'spatiality' accounted for more than 50% of the variability in the
amount of time speakers spent gesturing while defining them.
Although the evidence suggests that gesturing derives primarily from
spatial (and, we believe, dynamic) features of concepts, some gesturing
accompanies speech that has no apparent spatial content. In Zhang's study,
subjects gestured more than twice as much when defining 'adjacent' and 'cube'
than they did defining 'thought' and 'devotion;' nevertheless, gestures
accompanied about 17% of the time spent defining the latter two words. Since
neither term has explicit spatial or dynamic content, the fact that their definitions
were accompanied by gesturing seems inconsistent with our model. In
understanding how the model accounts for such gestures, it's important to bear
in mind that it assumes gestures to be products of memorial representations
rather then of communicative intentions. What we believe to be involved are
inter-connected systems containing concepts, lemmas, long-term visuo-spatial
representations and motor schemata so arranged that the activation of any
concept can result in the activation of a loosely connected motor schema. The
outline of such a system has only recently begun to emerge, describing such
connections between visuo-spatial and motor schema mediated by the
KandH6 -21- July 30, 2001
increasingly popular notion of ‘embodiment’ (Ballard et al. 1997), lemma and
visuo-spatial representations (Bierwisch 1996) and the figurative context of lexical
semantics (Gibbs 1997). These ideas, of course, require much more detailed
development to connect them to specific gestural phenomena.
Gestural Facilitation of Speech
Our contention is that lexical gestures facilitate lexical retrieval. The process by
which this is accomplished is illustrated in Fig. 3, in which the gesture production
system and the speech production system are connected. We will first describe
the general form of the model and then examine more closely some specific
issues it raises. In Fig. 3, the spatio-dynamic information the gesture encodes is
fed via the kinesic monitor to the formulator, where it facilitates lexical retrieval.
Facilitation is achieved through cross-modal priming, in which gesturally-
represented features of the concept in memory participate in lexical retrieval. Of
course, it is possible to locate the site of gestural input more precisely (e.g., the
grammatical encoder or the phonological encoder).
Fig. 3 shows the gesture production system affecting the speech
production system. Not shown is a path by which the speech production system
provides input to the gesture production system. Some such a link may be
necessary to tell the gesture production system when to terminate a gesture.
------------------------------------------------------------
Insert Fig. 3 about here
------------------------------------------------------------
F
URTHER SPECIFICATION OF THE MODEL
The model illustrated in Fig. 3 describes a set of structures and a general process flow.
For some aspects of the model there is considerable empirical support, while other
aspects are quite speculative. Models of the gesture production system and the process
by which it and the speech production system interact must of necessity be speculative
KandH6 -22- July 30, 2001
because there is relatively little reliable data available to constrain them. Not
surprisingly, researchers have made quite different assumptions about the processes
involved. In this section we will consider alternative ways of specifying the process of
gesture production and gesture-speech interaction, and examine the relevant data.
Gesture Origins
In the gesture literature, the term 'origin' has been used to refer to two different,
but related, aspects of the gesture production system. One usage refers to the
source of input to the gesture production system; this is the usage we will favor.
The other usage of 'origin' refers to the process that triggers or activates the
gesture. We will refer to this process as gesture initiation, and discuss it, along
with gesture termination, in the next section
In Fig. 3, the origin of gesture is shown to be the spatial-dynamic
representations in working memory that activate the feature-selection
component of the gesture production system (see Fig. 2); in our view, gestures
always involve processes that precede the formulation of a communicative
intention. Others have made different assumptions. For example, in a model
quite similar to ours in other respects, de Ruiter (in press) designates the
conceptualizer as the origin of the gesture production system's input. This is
consistent with his assumption that lexical gestures are communicatively
intended. We have already discussed what we see as problematic with that
assumption. Specifying the conceptualizer as the origin of gestures raises the
additional problem of how such gestures could aid in lexical access. If the
conceptualizer's input to the Gesture Planner in de Ruiter's model contains the
same information as the input to the formulator, it would be difficult to see how
gestural information could facilitate lexical retrieval, or why preventing
gesturing should make lexical retrieval more difficult.
KandH6 -23- July 30, 2001
The idea that lexical gestures have an early origin is consistent with the
well-established finding that lexical gestures precede their lexical affiliates
(Butterworth and Beattie 1978; Schegloff 1984; Morrel-Samuels and Krauss 1992).
Morrel-Samuels and Krauss, for example, examined 60 carefully selected lexical
gestures and found the gesture-speech asynchrony (the time interval between
the onset of the lexical gesture and the onset of the lexical affiliate) to range from
0 - 3.75 s, with a mean of 0.99 s and a median of 0.75 s; none of the 60 gestures
was initiated after articulation of the lexical affiliate had begun. The gestures'
durations ranged from 0.54 s to 7.71 s. (mean = 2.49 s), and only three of the 60
terminated before articulation of the lexical affiliate had been initiated. The
product-moment correlation between gestural duration and asynchrony is +0.71.
The idea that lexical gestures originate in short-term memory contrasts
with the position taken by McNeill (1992), who argued for multiple links
between the speech and the gesture systems, consistent with a connectionist
cognitive architecture. We find such an architecture contributes little to
explicating the relationship of gesture and speech because it is insufficiently
constrained and, therefore, does not produce sufficiently specific predictions.
Employing more modular architectures, Butterworth and Beattie (1978),
Butterworth and Hadar (1989) and Hadar and Butterworth (1997) have argued
in favor of two different gestural origins, one in short term memory and the
other later in the speech production process. Their argument hinges upon a
distinction between iconic gesture and gestures that are indefinite, in the sense
that they cannot be affiliated with a specific lexical item. They hypothesize that
the origin of indefinite gestures is short term memory, while iconic gestures are
directly activated by lexical processes. However, the available data do not
support this idea. By the logic of their argument, iconic gestures should tend to
KandH6 -24- July 30, 2001
start during hesitation pauses, while indefinite gestures should not. By the same
argument, the gesture-speech asynchrony (i.e., the interval between the
initiation of the gesture and the articulation of the lexical affiliate) should be
smaller for iconic gestures that start during hesitation pauses than it is for iconic
gestures that do not start during hesitation pauses. In neither case is the
available evidence supportive (Hadar et al. 1998a, 1998b). The Butterworth and
Hadar argument brings into focus the important issues of gesture initiation and
termination, which we address in the next section.
The Initiation and Termination of Gestures
What causes a speaker to gesture? Krauss et al. (1995; in press) assume that the
early conceptual processes that produce the input to the conceptualizer routinely
implicate non-propositional representations. Some of these derive from spatial
or dynamic properties of the processed concepts, and this particular subset of
non-propositional representations is linked with the gesture production system:
its activation activates the spatial/dynamic features selector. On this account,
whenever a spatial representation is activated, a gesture is triggered. Krauss et
al. (1995, in press) present two kinds of evidence in support of their model: First,
speech with spatial content is considerably more likely to be accompanied by
gestures than speech with other kinds of content, although this was not found in
a study by Hadar and Krauss (in press). Second, immobilizing gesture selectively
impairs speech with spatial content. Although the latter finding has not yet been
independently replicated, the account as a whole seems plausible and consistent
with the available data. However, it certainly is possible that the subset of
representations linked up with gesture production is not specifically spatial, but
visual, as McNeill (1992) suggests, or visuo-spatial, as Hadar et al. (1998a)
suggest.
KandH6 -25- July 30, 2001
Krauss et al. (1995, in press) explain the tendency of gestures to be
associated with hesitations by assuming that lexical selection switches off the
gesture production system. On this account, if the set of features that activated
the gesture is realized in lexical selection, the gesture production process is
aborted. Consequently, many gestures are activated but not executed;
difficulties encountered in lexical selection may simply allows sufficient time for
the gesture to reach execution.
Butterworth and Hadar have proposed a more complex dual mechanism
for gesture initiation in which some gestures are activated directly from short-
term memory, while others are initiated by failures of lexical retrieval
(Butterworth and Hadar 1989). Hadar and Butterworth 1997). They contend that
such failures often initiate a re-run of lexical selection, and that during such re-
runs, the formulator attempts to gather more cues for lexical selection by
activating non-propositional representations related to the sought-for lexical
entry. These non-propositional representations, in turn, activate a gesture. We
accept this possibility, but stress that the available evidence suggests that in these
cases the loop of the re-run must be ‘deep’ enough to activate early
representations, and it is these early representations which activate the gesture.
We also note that the lexical loop may, at best, apply only to those gestures that
are associated with hesitation. On our count, these amount to about 70% of
gestures in aphasic patients with primarily lexical retrieval problems, but in
healthy subjects they amount to about 30% of lexical gestures (Hadar et al.
1998b). A different kind of mechanism must be hypothesized to account for
gestures that are not associated with hesitation.
KandH6 -26- July 30, 2001
The Input from Gesture to Speech
In order to affect lexical retrieval, gesture-related information must enter the
speech system. There are a number of possible entry points. Fig. 3 shows the
output of the kinesic monitor feeding into the formulator. This is the simplest
inference from the hypothesis of lexical facilitation: gesture-related information
acts as input to lexical selection either in the form of additional cues (Hadar and
Butterworth 1997) or in the form of cross-modal priming (Krauss et al. in press).
Hadar and Butterworth (1997) have suggested that gestural information
might be input to the conceptualizer. On this account, gesture-related
information would contribute to the construction of the speaker's
communicative intention and affect lexical retrieval only indirectly. The available
evidence, although far from definitive, is not supportive of this view. Rauscher
et al. (1996) found that preventing speakers from gesturing increased the
proportion of nonjuncture pauses in their speech. Unlike juncture pauses, which
can result from a variety of causes (including conceptualizing), nonjuncture
pauses seem mainly to reflect problems in lexical retrieval (see Krauss et al. 1996
for a discussion). Hence, the fact that preventing gestures increases the relative
frequency of hesitations is consistent with the proposition that the gestures are
involved with lexical retrieval. However, the subjects' task in this study
(describing the plots of animated action cartoons) may have made minimal
conceptual demands. Rauscher et al. found that making lexical retrieval more
difficult increased the impact of preventing gesturing; similarly, varying the
conceptual complexity of the speaker's task might reveal that what we are
calling lexical gestures also function at the conceptual level. Research by Goldin-
Meadow et al. (1993) and observations by McNeill (1992) seem to indicate that
KandH6 -27- July 30, 2001
gesturing is associated with conceptual activity, but their specific role is far from
clear.
Within the formulator, gesture-related information could serve as an
input to either the grammatical encoder or the phonological encoder, or to both.
Lexical retrieval proceeds in two separate stages--lemma selection and word-
form selection--and problems at either stage could result in the kinds of
dysfluencies observed by Rauscher et al. It is reasonable to assume that gesture-
related information enters the speech system at the point at which facilitation
occurs, so examining facilitation effects may help us decide this issue.
Unfortunately, the empirical evidence is contradictory.
Some findings support the idea of semantic facilitation, suggesting entry
via the lemma system. For example, aphasic patients whose have problems
naming objects tend to produce more lexical gestures if their difficulties involve
retrieval of the lemma rather than retrieval of the word form (Hadar et al.
1998b). Also, native speakers of Hebrew with good facility in English produced
more lexical gestures accompanying self-generated descriptions in both English
and Hebrew than they did while translating from Hebrew to English or vice
versa (Teitelman 1997). If one assumes that hesitation in a second language
derives from problems in accessing word forms (Kroll and Stewart 1994), then
the dearth of gestures contra-indicates phonological retrieval as the beneficiary
of gesture. However, the same study found more lexical gestures accompanying
self-generated descriptions in English than in Hebrew, which is consistent with
the word-form hypothesis. To further complicate matters, Dushay (1991) found
that subjects in a referential communication task gestured less often when
describing abstract figures and synthesized sounds in L
2
than in L
1
. Dushay's
subjects, students taking second year Spanish, were considerably less fluent than
KandH6 -28- July 30, 2001
Teitelman's, and unpublished data collected by Melissa Lau suggests that
frequency of gesturing in L
2
may be a function of the speaker's fluency; the
more fluent her English-Cantonese bilinguals were in Cantonese, the more
frequently they gestured while speaking it. Like Teitelman, Lau's subjects
gestured more when speaking spontaneously than they did when translating,
either from Cantonese to English or from English to Cantonese. However,
unlike Teitelman’s subjects, hers gestured more frequently overall when
speaking English (L
1
) than Cantonese (L
2
). At this point, it is not clear what can
be concluded about gestural input to the speech production system from the
gestural behavior of bilinguals.
Finally, since there is no systematic relationship between the semantic
features that are part of the lemma and the phonological features that make up
the word form, if lexical facilitation is achieved through priming, as Krauss et al.
(1995) suggest, it seems likely that facilitation occurs at the level of lemma
selection.
On the other hand, findings from studies using the ‘tip of the tongue’
(TOT) paradigm are consistent with the view that gestures facilitate retrieval at
the word form rather than the lemma level. It is well accepted that TOT retrieval
failures in normal subjects tend to be phonological rather than semantic (Brown
and McNeill 1966; Jones and Langford 1987; Kohn et al. 1987; Jones 1989; Brown
1991; Meyer and Bock 1992), and there is some evidence that preventing
gesturing increases retrieval failures in the TOT situation (Frick-Horbury and
Guttentag, in press). In the same vein, Broca’s aphasics tend to produce very
high proportions of lexical gestures (Cicone et al. 1979; McNeill 1992), and their
ability to name also seems to benefit from intentionally performing a gesture
prior to naming (Hanlon et al. 1990). However, there is some disagreement on
KandH6 -29- July 30, 2001
the nature of naming problems in Broca’s aphasia. While some researchers (e.g.,
Brown 1982) consider these patients' difficulties to be similar to TOTs, others
(e.g., Williams and Canter 1987) argue that their retrieval failures primarily
involve verbs, and therefore originate in lemma selection.
In sum, there is considerable evidence to indicate that the gesture
production system's output affects the formulator in the speech production
system. Certainly it is possible that gesture-related information also affects the
conceptualizer, but the evidence for this is largely anecdotal. Within the
formulator, gesture-related information could influence either grammatical or
the phonological encoding, and there is indirect evidence consistent with both
possibilities. Although it seems reasonably clear that information from the
gesture-production system can affect speech production, we are not yet in a
position to specify the locus or loci of these effects.
The Output from Gesture to Speech
At what point does the gesture-related information leave the gesture production
system and enter the speech system? As before, there are several possibilities, all
underconstrained by the available data. Butterworth and Hadar (1989; Hadar
and Butterworth 1997) have suggested that the information leaves the gesture
production system from its origin, that is, prior to actually generating the
gesture. In their account, gesturing might be considered an artifact of the
activation of the direct origin, the real purpose of which is to re-run the word
selection process. They offer no data to support their claim, but rather adduce it
as an inference from considerations of conceptual processing. In their view,
gesture acts only to maintain activation of the non-propositional representation
long enough for the word selection process to develop. The actual production of
gesture, then, can contribute to facilitation, but does so indirectly.
KandH6 -30- July 30, 2001
Krauss et al. (1995, in press) hold a contrary view—that the gesture must
actually be performed for facilitation to occur. In their model, information
contained in the gesture, consisting of kinesthetic and proprioceptive
representations, is extracted by the kinesic monitor. It is this information,
inputted to the formulator, that facilitates retrieval. They conclude this largely
from the finding that limitation of gesturing impairs word retrieval in normal
subjects. Note that some impairment can be inferred from the Hadar and
Butterworth model as well, but the two accounts differ as to how readily subjects
should be able to compensate for gestural immobilization. According to Hadar
and Butterworth (1997), but not Krauss et al. (1995), compensation should be
fairly easy.
C
ONCLUDING COMMENT
We have described the general outlines of a model for the production of lexical
gestures. We also have examined in some detail a number of alternative ways of
formulating the model, and considered their strengths and vulnerabilities. One
conclusion seems reasonably clear. As things currently stand, there is so little
reliable data to constrain theory on gesture production that any processing
model must be both tentative and highly speculative. Nevertheless, we do not
believe that model building in such circumstances is a waste of time. Models
provide a convenient way of systematizing available data. They also compel
theorists to make explicit the assumptions that underlie their formulations, thus
making it easier to assess in what ways, and to what extent, apparently different
theories actually differ. Finally, and arguably most importantly, models guide
investigators' efforts, and lead them to collect data that will confirm or
disconfirm one or another model.
KandH6 -31- July 30, 2001
Our account has relied primarily on data from experiments.
Experimentation is, of course, a powerful method for generating certain kinds of
data, but it also has serious limitations, and Kendon (1994) has remarked on
discrepancies between the conclusions reached by investigators who rely on
experimental findings and those whose data derive mainly from natural
observation. Observational studies have enhanced our understanding of what
gestures accomplish, and the recent addition of neuropsychological observations
should provide further insight into the gesture production system. The
conclusions of careful and seasoned observers certainly deserve to be taken
seriously. At the same time, we are uncomfortable with some investigators'
excessive reliance upon observers' impressions of gestural form or meaning,
especially when the observers are aware of the contents of the accompanying
speech. Without the proper controls, such impressions provide a weak
foundation for theory and, we believe, are more usefully thought of as a source
of hypotheses than as data in their own right.
We have few illusions that we have considered every possible
implementation of the model, or that all of the assumptions we have made will
ultimately prove to have been justified. Indeed, our own ideas about the process
by which lexical gestures are generated have changed considerably over the last
several years, and we would be surprised if they did not continue to change as
data accumulate. Although much of the data currently available is equivocal,
and much more remains to be collected, we believe that the process in which
models are produced and data (both experimental and observational) are
collected to confirm or disconfirm them will ultimately result in a genuine
understanding of how gestures are produced and how they are related to
speech.
KandH6 -32- July 30, 2001
Preverbal
Message
Phonetic
Plan
Conceptualizer
Articulator
Formulator
Grammatical
Encoder
Phonological
Encoder
Lexicon
Overt
Speech
Lemmas
Word
Forms
Long Term
Memory
Discourse model
Situation knowledge
Encyclopedia,
Etc.
Working
Memory
Spatial/
Dynamic
Other
Propositional
Auditory
Monitor
Fig. 1. A cognitive architecture for the speech production process
(based on Levelt 1989).
KandH6 -33- July 30, 2001
Working
Memory
Spatial/
Dynamic
Other
Propositional
Lexical
Movement
Motor
Program
Spatial/Dynamic
Specifications
Motor
Planner
Spatial/
Dynamic
Feature
Selector
Motor
System
Kinesic
Monitor
Fig.2. A cognitive architecture for the gesture production system.
KandH6 -34- July 30, 2001
Preverbal
Message
Phonetic
Plan
Conceptualizer
Articulator
Formulator
Grammatical
Encoder
Phonological
Encoder
Lexicon
Overt
Speech
Lemmas
Word
Forms
Long Term
Memory
Discourse model
Situation knowledge
Encyclopedia,
Etc.
Working
Memory
Spatial/
Dynamic
Other
Propositional
Auditory
Monitor
Lexical
Movement
Spatial/Dynamic
Specifications
Motor
Program
Motor
Planner
Spatial/
Dynamic
Feature
Selector
Motor
System
Kinesic
Monitor
Fig. 3. Interaction of the speech and gesture production systems.
KandH6 -35- July 30, 2001
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the collaborators whose names
are noted in connection with the research in which they participated. Our thinking
about these matters benefited greatly from discussions of speech, gesture and how they
might be related with Julian Hochberg, Ezequial Morsella, Lois Putnam, and the late
Stanley Schachter. Finally, we thank the editors for their helpful and astute comments,
support and exemplary patience.
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... 16) Advocates of a separatist view, however, point to the well-known asynchrony of gestures and speech as evidence for an early split in the production of gestures and speech. Gestures generally tend to precede the segment in the speech signal that they relate to (the 'lexical affiliate') [33,[41][42][43]: "[t]he idea that lexical gestures have an early origin is consistent with the well-established finding that lexical gestures precede their lexical affiliates . . . ." [33] (p. ...
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