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Gestures as Cues to a Target

Leonard Talmy, University at Buffalo, NY, USA

This talk examines one particular class of co-speech gestures: "targeting gestures".  In the circumstance addressed here, a speaker wants to refer to something -- her "target" -- located near or far in the physical environment, and to get the hearer's attention on it jointly with her own at a certain point in her discourse.  At that discourse point, she inserts a demonstrative such as this, that, here, there that refers to her target, and produces a targeting gesture.  Such a gesture is defined by two criteria. 1) It is associated specifically with the demonstrative. 2) It must help the hearer single the target out from the rest of the environment.  That is, it must provide a gestural cue to the target.

The main proposal here is that, on viewing a speaker's targeting gesture, a hearer cognitively generates an imaginal chain of fictive constructs that connect the gesture spatially with the target.  Such an imaginal chain has the properties of being unbroken and directional (forming progressively from the gesture to the target).  The fictive constructs that, in sequence, comprise the chain consist either of schematic (virtually geometric) structures, or of operations that move such structures -- or of both combined.  Such fictive constructs include projections, sweeps, traces, trails, gap crossing, filler spread, and radial expansion.

Targeting gestures can in turn be divided into ten categories based on how the fictive chain from the gesture most helps a hearer determine the target.  The fictive chain from the gesture can intersect with the target, enclose it, parallel it, co-progress with it, sweep through it, follow a non-straight path to it, present it, neighbor it, contact it, or affect it.

The prototype of targeting gestures is pointing, -- e.g., a speaker aiming her extended forefinger at her target while saying That's my horse.  But the full range of such gestures is actually prodigious. This talk will present some of this range and place it within an annalytic framework.

This analysis of targeting gestures will need to be assessed through experimental and videographic techniques.  What is already apparent, though, is that it is largely consonant with certain evidence from the linguistic analysis of fictive motion and from the psychological analysis of visual perception.

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