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Pragmatic aspects of representational gestures: Do speakers use them to clarify verbal ambiguity for the listener?

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Two studies are reported that investigate how speakers use gesture in association with verbal ambiguity in two communicational situations characteristic of everyday talk. The first study uses a design that mimics a speaker’s self-repair initiated by the listener, while the second study involves speakers producing longer stretches of speech involving lexical ambiguity, without the listener interacting verbally with the speaker. The findings of both studies show that speakers do use gesture to clarify verbal ambiguity. Moreover, they suggest that the speaker’s awareness of a potential communication problem, and the fact that this communication problem is associated with the speech itself, are crucial variables influencing speakers’ gestural behaviour. Differences in the complexity of the form of the gestures are also observed and the theoretical implications of this are discussed. Overall, these studies provide important insights into semantic and pragmatic aspects of representational hand gestures and speech-gesture interaction in everyday talk.
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