Gesture Focus Group    
Gesture Focus Group



Description of events


The Gesture Focus Group Speakers’ Series brings distinguished researchers from the field of gesture studies to the Stony Brook University community. The Speakers’ Series is intended to expose interested students to the research and methodological techniques of international experts of the field through intensive workshops. These workshops are intended to provide advanced training for students already involved in gesture-related research projects and to incite the interest and provide theoretical and methodological foundations to those new to the field.

The first three events of the Speakers’ Series are aimed at introducing students to different methodological approaches for analyzing speech-accompanying gestures.

Susan Duncan's workshop provides advanced training in theoretical and methodological approaches for studying speech-accompanying gestures. The first part of the workshop gives a theoretical introduction to the study of gesture, with an emphasis on the implications that the synchrony between gesture and prosody has for language processing. The second part of the workshop reviews different analytic approaches for the study of gesture and demonstrates an approach that is simultaneously fine-grained, focusing on speech-gesture events that occur at time frames of a second or less, and expansive in that it consults the larger discourse context when judging what constitutes a gesture and inferring its meaning. In the third part of the workshop, participants have the opportunity to present their current projects, practice coding gesture data from their own corpora, and exchange ideas about future research directions.

Cornelia Müller’s workshop Forms and meanings of gestures: a linguistic approach to the description and analysis of gestures (March 2 - 3, 2007), provided a theoretical introduction to the field of gesture studies by bringing together linguistic, primatological, and neurological approaches, and included a tutorial on coding the physical features of gestures.

Mandana Seyfeddinipur's workshop Gesture structure: phases, phrases and units” (Dec.1,2 2006) focused on coding how gestures structurally unfold over time in relation to speech .

We hope that we will continue to recruit successfully new speakers for the Gesture Focus Group Speakers’ Series so that a continued dialog is established between young Stony Brook researchers and the broader gesture community.

Speaker Series: “Implications of speech-gesture synchrony for theories of speech production.”

Guest speaker: Susan Duncan, The University of Chicago

Date: 04/11/08 – 04/12/08

Synopsis of Gesture Focus Group’s Speaker Series Event with Dr. Susan Duncan


Friday, April 11th 2008 (Location: PSY A 113)

10:00-10:30     Welcome

Session 1: Presentation of empirical research

10:30 -1:30      Gesture and prosody in natural language use  


Language production makes use of speakers’ ability to shape, direct, and locate their hands, and bodies in space and in relation to their listeners and to objects in the environment. This ability contributes to a cognitive and social-interactional function: the elaboration, via coverbal gesturing, of “material carriers” (McNeill & Duncan 2000) of linguistic conceptualizations. This presentation will consider what the tight integration of gesture with semantically co-expressive constituents of the speech stream at very small time intervals means for theories of language production; in particular, examine evidence that features of gesture production and speech prosodic contouring co-vary in ways that suggest these dimensions of expression are in some respects manifestations of a single discourse process.  

Three studies examine the effect on discourse production of factors that expand versus constrict these dimensions of expression and allow us to explore their relationship. The studies draw on videotaped storytelling by speakers who describe events in a cartoon they have seen. The first study manipulates two factors: (1) speakers either describe single events in isolation or describe those same events embedded in full stories; (2) the order in which speakers describe key events is manipulated, so that the events fit into the storyline differently, prompting a different discourse organization. Results show that iconically depictive gestures and speech prosodic emphasis synchronize to jointly highlight the same aspects of the described events. However, which aspects are selected for highlighting depends on the relationship of the descriptive utterance to its discourse surrounds (limited versus extended); on how (or whether) discourse cohesion is being built and maintained. The second study compares cartoon stories told by healthy individuals with those of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, a neuromotor disorder that impedes bodily movement and also tamps speakers’ prosodic expressive capability. This comparison yields further evidence that gestures function as material representations of meaning that build and maintain discourse cohesion. The diminishment of gesture and prosodic contouring, in Parkinson’s, correlates with a fragmented and, in some details, incoherent, narrative discourse style. The third study is a pilot attempt to further map the extent of the relatedness of coverbal gesture and speech prosody, focusing on the prosodic dimension of vocal loudness. Narrators were manipulated to recount the cartoon story at softer versus louder voice volumes. Initial findings are that gesture size and complexity increase with increases in voice volume, further evidence suggesting that coverbal gesture and speech prosody are a unified dimension of communicative behavior.


1:30-2:30         Lunch Break


Session 2: Workshop on analytic methods  

2:30-5:00         Implications of gesture-speech synchrony for psycholinguistic theory 


Observations of the form, execution, and meaning of the gestures that people unwittingly produce when they speak have the potential to inform psycholinguistic theories of language use. Manual and bodily gestures reveal aspects of the visual, spatial, and motoric imagery that feeds linguistic conceptualization. The gestures that occur in extended natural discourse contexts, such as storytelling or conversation, are a proper target for observation and theorizing about the functions of gesture in language. However, the tremendous variability of speakers’ gestures in unconstrained contexts of language use suggests that their forms, meanings, and timing in relation to speech are shaped by many factors. This variability poses a challenge to the search for systematic patterning that can lead to solid generalizations about the functions of gestures in language. Many researchers meet this challenge by reducing the problem space in various ways, including, (1) a ‘case study’ approach of explicating all or selected gestures in a single discourse, (2) controlled, experimental elicitation of brief gesture-plus-speech productions that are isolated from any discourse context, (3) excerpting large numbers of gesture-speech productions from natural discourses for comparison and considering the contexts that shaped them as a source of statistical ‘noise’ in the analysis. Though these methods make the analytic problem more tractable, they may also limit the reach of theoretical accounts of gesturing. This workshop will demonstrate an approach to analysis of spontaneous coverbal gestures in extended natural discourse. The analytic approach is simultaneously very fine-grained, focusing on speech-gesture events that occur at time frames of a second or less, and expansive in that the larger discourse context is always consulted in the process of judging what constitutes a gesture and inferring its meaning. The analytic approach builds on the system first described in detail in McNeill (1992). The approach has been extended and refined, and some assumptions altered, in the years since, in tandem with the development of the ‘Growth Point’ theory of language production (McNeill & Duncan 2000; McNeill 2005). In demonstrating the process by which intervals of meaningful gesture are identified in natural discourses, their meanings inferred, and their interrelationships with surrounding gestures explicated, a goal of this workshop will be to show the connections between parameters of the analysis and Growth Point theory.


5:00- 6:00        Summary & Discussion 

Dinner at the Curry Club (participation optional)

Saturday, April 12th 2008 (Location: PSY A 113)

Session 3: Symposium

10:30-10:45     Welcome

10:45- 11:30    The role of speech-gesture congruency and delay in remembering action events

Alexia Galati, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University (in collaboration with Arty Samuel) 

11:30- 12:15    Speakers’ adjustments to a distracted audience: How speakers’ expectations and addressees’ feedback shape narrating and gesturing

Anna Kuhlen, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University  

12:15-1:00       Lunch


1:00- 1:45    Audience-design and linguistic influence on the production of emblematic gestures

Marwa Abdalla, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University           

1:45-2:30   The communicative value of gesture: Are there differences between first and second language production and perception?

Alexandra Suppes, Department of Psychology, Columbia University (in collaboration with Laura Garcia and Robert M. Krauss) 

2:30-2:45    Coffee break 

2:45-3:30    Discourse coherence and gesture interpretation

Matthew Stone, Department of Computer Science, Rutgers University (in collaboration with Alex Lascarides) 

More presentations TBA.