Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

I See What You’re Saying: The Communicative Functions of Hand Gestures

I See What You’re Saying: The Communicative Functions of Hand Gestures

Ami Attee

Hand gestures are movements that occur when a person is speaking, and not while a person is listening. It can be hypothesized that hand gestures must serve a communicative function. The studies of hand gestures accompanying conversation have only been researched in depth for the latter part of the twentieth century, but are still continuing to gain more interest. As of right now, there is no definitive answer as to what the true purpose of hand gestures is.

However, this paper will identify several types of common gestures used in conversation, and two of the most popular theories regarding their use. The first theory is that gestures are used for a speaker to communicate to their audience. This is supported by research and experiments showing that apes use gestures to communicate to one another (Tanner and Byrne 1996), people gesture more frequently when they have an audience (Bavelas et al. 1995), and the effects of a speaker using the wrong gestures can impair a speaker’s perception and memory of their conversation (Cassell et al. 1994). The second theory is that gestures are physical process of thinking and speaking, since they occur at the same time. The second theory is supported by research and experiments with children blind from birth using comparable gestures to those with sight (Iverson and Goldin-Meadow 1998), when hands are restricted the speaker has a difficulties recalling information from memory (Hostetter and Hopkins 2002), and gestures are used even when there is no audience present (Krauss et al. 1995).

The two main theories are nearly opposites (for the audience or for the speaker), but neither directly try to disprove the other. This paper intends to show some of the theories, experiments, and ideas surrounding gestures and their communicative functions. Whether gestures are used for the speaker or the audience, they are still important to communication and language. Though the mystery remains unsolved, each experiment gives insight and understanding to the complexity of hand gestures and their communicative functions.

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April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. Hello. I am a high school senior currently but I am interested in this topic. How can I get a final and complete version of this research/paper (preferably without cost)? Or, I suppose, where can I find more information on the topic (citations/bibliography/works cited will all function splendidly).

    Thanks!

    Comment by Curtis W. Franks | June 10, 2010 | Reply


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