What modern‐day gesture can tell us about language evolution

Susan Goldin-Meadow

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 What modern‐day gesture can tell us about language evolution

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This article focuses on two roles of gesture and explores the changes that take place in the manual modality when it is employed to fulfill the functions of language on its own. Gestures reflect a global-synthetic image. Gesture is idiosyncratic and constructed at the moment of speaking and it does not belong to a conventional code. The gesture conveys nuances of the coastline that are difficult to capture in speech. Gesture allows speakers to convey thoughts that may not easily fit into the categorical system, which are offered by conventional language. The gestures that accompany speech are not composed of parts but instead have parts that derive from wholes that are represented by way of imagery. The imagistic base of gesture allows it to capture and reveal information that speakers may have difficulty expressing in speech. Gesture can also play a role in cognitive growth by providing an imagistic route through which ideas can be made active or brought into the learner's repertoire. The manual modality assumes an imagistic form when it is used in conjunction with a segmented and combinatorial system. Modern-day human communication systems are based on a segmented and combinatorial mode of representation that gives the system its generative capacity. The gestures that speakers produce in the manual modality can express information that they are often not able to express within the codified spoken system. This information is processed by the listener and becomes part of the conversation.

Keywords: manual modality; gesture; imagistic base; conventional language; human communication systems

Article.  5511 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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