What’s new? Gestures accompany inferable rather than brand-new referents in discourse

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The literature on bimodal discourse reference has shown that gestures are sensitive to referents’ information status in discourse. Gestures occur more often with new referents/first mentions than with given referents/subsequent mentions. However, because not all new entities at first mention occur with gestures, the current study examines whether gestures are sensitive to a difference in information status between brand-new and inferable entities, and variation in nominal definiteness. Unexpectedly, the results show that gestures are more frequent with inferable referents (hearer-new but discourse-old) than with brand-new referents (hearer- and discourse-new). The findings reveal new aspects of the relationship between gestures and speech in discourse, specifically suggesting a complementary (disambiguating) function for gestures in the context of first mentioned discourse entities. The results thus highlight the multi-functionality of gestures in relation to speech.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • gestures, discourse, reference, information status, speech-gesture relationship, visual language, Information structure, new/given information
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number1935
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Sep 23
Publication categoryResearch

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