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Evidence for node and scope of negation in coverbal gesture

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Negative structures are a characteristic of all human languages. One such structure is ‘node’ and ‘scope’ of negation. In an utterance, the node is the location of a negative form, and the scope is the stretch of language to which the negation applies. In this paper, I examine a gesture that English speakers perform when they negate and show how speakers organize the different phases of gestural action in relation to the negative structures in speech. In this gesture, speakers first bring one hand across their body (preparation phase). Then, with the palm turned down, they move their hand rapidly along the horizontal axis (stroke phase). Often, they hold their hand in space for a short period after the stroke (post-stroke hold phase), before returning it to rest (recovery phase). In several negative utterances, drawn from a corpus of audiovisual recordings of conversations in everyday settings, speakers prepared this gesture in advance of the node of negation, synchronized the stroke of the gesture with the node, and performed a post-stroke hold throughout the scope. I suggest that the grammatical concepts of node and scope can also account for the way speakers gesture when they negate. This study refines understanding of how gesture phrase structure functions and suggests a multimodal view of grammatical phenomena.
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Keywords: gesture; negation; negative structures; node; post-stroke hold; scope

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-10-11

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