Gestural iconicity and abstract concepts: Time and number
Host: Professor Thomas Hills
Language is intrinsically multimodal, with many researchers thinking of language and gesture as having co-evolved together, forming one integrated system. In this talk, I will review new research from our lab on iconic gestures, those gestures that depicttheir meaning via resemblance, such as when pinching the index finger and thumb together to indicate a small size. I will discuss a series of experiments focused on uncovering how categorical geometrical shapes are mentally derived from continuous physical articulation of the hands. Equipped with this understanding of how gestural iconicity is decoded by perceivers, I will present a large-scale corpus-based gesture study with data from the TV News Archive showing that when English speakers talk about numerical concepts, they use iconic gestures. Compared to existing lab-based experiments on spatial-numerical associations, such as experiments on the SNARC effect, the analysis of multimodal corpora provides more ecologically valid evidence for the idea that people’s numerical concepts are grounded in spatial thought. I will conclude by reviewing a series of experimental studies on the gestural depiction of temporal concepts, specifically, movement along the mental time line. These experiments show that gestural iconicity can completely alter the interpretation of a message when thinking about time.