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Uttering sentences made up of words and gestures

Abstract : Human communication is multi-modal. It is an empirical fact that many of our acts of communication exploit a variety of means to make our communicative intentions recognisable. Scholars readily distinguish between verbal and non-verbal means of communication, and very often they deal with them separately. So it is that a great number of semanticists and pragmaticists give verbal communication preferential treatment. The non-verbal aspects of an act of communication (indexical gestures, mimicry, prosodic features, etc.) are treated as if they were not underlain by communicative intentions. They are “relegated” to mere aspects of the context. However, several schools of thoughts have a different take on the issue. Thus psychologists or semioticians of gesture (e.g. Goldin-Meadow, McNeill) have shown how intricately gestures and speech are related in utterances. And, in a different area of the theoretical landscape, so-called “Relevance Theorists” have made the same point. Thus, Robyn Carston writes that “the domain of pragmatics is a natural class of environmental phenomena, that of ostensive (=communicative) stimuli; verbal utterances are the central case, but not the only one, and they themselves are frequently accompanied by other ostensive gestures of the face, hands, voice etc, all of which have to be interpreted together if one is to correctly infer what is being communicated” (2002, 129; emphasis mine). This position rests on the assumption that there is a single “pragmatic system” or module at work in the interpretation of “ostensive stimuli”. When it comes to interpreting verbal stimuli, the same mechanisms and resources are used as when it comes to processing non-verbal ones. If there is no distinct “linguistic pragmatic system”, then the scholar who studies communication should not favour the verbal at the expense of the non-verbal. In this paper, I want to make a contribution to the study of multi-modal messages by considering a type of utterances that mix the verbal with the non-verbal in such a way that a piece of non-linguistic communication seems to stand in for a linguistic constituent which remains unrealised. Here is a real-life example (the speaker is a fretting but relieved customer talking to an assistant in a fashion shop): (1) I didn't see the [IMITATION OF FRIGHTENING GRUMPINESS] woman today; will she be back this week? The square-bracketed string in small capitals is meant to capture the facial expressions and gestures performed in the conversational setting. What is intriguing here is that this instance of ostensive mimicry does not come as a mere complement to some linguistic stimulus; it appears to take the place of that stimulus. I shall try to show that a linguistic analysis can indeed be offered for cases like (1) – though, I believe, without succumbing to the pro-linguistic bias that Carston warns against. I will, however, argue against an ellipsis-based account (as inspired by, e.g., Merchant 2004): the structure of sentence (1) does not contain an unrealised adjective phrase. Instead, I shall defend a ‘syntactic-recruitment' account (as initially developed in Recanati 2001 for a class of quotations).
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Contributor : Philippe de Brabanter <>
Submitted on : Monday, February 12, 2007 - 5:31:25 PM
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Philippe de Brabanter. Uttering sentences made up of words and gestures. Esther Romero and Belén Soria. EXPLICIT COMMUNICATION. Robyn Carston 's Pragmatics, Palgrave, 2007. ⟨ijn_00130582⟩



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