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  • Campisi, E., & Ozyurek, A. (2013). Iconicity as a communicative strategy: Recipient design in multimodal demonstrations for adults and children. Journal of Pragmatics, 47, 14-27. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2012.12.007.

    Abstract

    Humans are the only species that uses communication to teach new knowledge to novices, usually to children (Tomasello, 1999 and Csibra and Gergely, 2006). This context of communication can employ “demonstrations” and it takes place with or without the help of objects (Clark, 1996). Previous research has focused on understanding the nature of demonstrations for very young children and with objects involved. However, little is known about the strategies used in demonstrating an action to an older child in comparison to another adult and without the use of objects, i.e., with gestures only. We tested if during demonstration of an action speakers use different degrees of iconicity in gestures for a child compared to an adult. 18 Italian subjects described to a camera how to make coffee imagining the listener as a 12-year-old child, a novice or an expert adult. While speech was found more informative both for the novice adult and for the child compared to the expert adult, the rate of iconic gestures increased and they were more informative and bigger only for the child compared to both of the adult conditions. Iconicity in gestures can be a powerful communicative strategy in teaching new knowledge to children in demonstrations and this is in line with claims that it can be used as a scaffolding device in grounding knowledge in experience (Perniss et al., 2010).
  • Debreslioska, S., Ozyurek, A., Gullberg, M., & Perniss, P. M. (2013). Gestural viewpoint signals referent accessibility. Discourse Processes, 50(7), 431-456. doi:10.1080/0163853x.2013.824286.

    Abstract

    The tracking of entities in discourse is known to be a bimodal phenomenon. Speakers achieve cohesion in speech by alternating between full lexical forms, pronouns, and zero anaphora as they track referents. They also track referents in co-speech gestures. In this study, we explored how viewpoint is deployed in reference tracking, focusing on representations of animate entities in German narrative discourse. We found that gestural viewpoint systematically varies depending on discourse context. Speakers predominantly use character viewpoint in maintained contexts and observer viewpoint in reintroduced contexts. Thus, gestural viewpoint seems to function as a cohesive device in narrative discourse. The findings expand on and provide further evidence for the coordination between speech and gesture on the discourse level that is crucial to understanding the tight link between the two modalities.
  • Gentner, D., Ozyurek, A., Gurcanli, O., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2013). Spatial language facilitates spatial cognition: Evidence from children who lack language input. Cognition, 127, 318-330. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.01.003.

    Abstract

    Does spatial language influence how people think about space? To address this question, we observed children who did not know a conventional language, and tested their performance on nonlinguistic spatial tasks. We studied deaf children living in Istanbul whose hearing losses prevented them from acquiring speech and whose hearing parents had not exposed them to sign. Lacking a conventional language, the children used gestures, called homesigns, to communicate. In Study 1, we asked whether homesigners used gesture to convey spatial relations, and found that they did not. In Study 2, we tested a new group of homesigners on a Spatial Mapping Task, and found that they performed significantly worse than hearing Turkish children who were matched to the deaf children on another cognitive task. The absence of spatial language thus went hand-in-hand with poor performance on the nonlinguistic spatial task, pointing to the importance of spatial language in thinking about space.
  • Habets, B., Kita, S., Shao, Z., Ozyurek, A., & Hagoort, P. (2011). The role of synchrony and ambiguity in speech–gesture integration during comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 1845-1854. doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21462.

    Abstract

    During face-to-face communication, one does not only hear speech but also see a speaker's communicative hand movements. It has been shown that such hand gestures play an important role in communication where the two modalities influence each other's interpretation. A gesture typically temporally overlaps with coexpressive speech, but the gesture is often initiated before (but not after) the coexpressive speech. The present ERP study investigated what degree of asynchrony in the speech and gesture onsets are optimal for semantic integration of the concurrent gesture and speech. Videos of a person gesturing were combined with speech segments that were either semantically congruent or incongruent with the gesture. Although gesture and speech always overlapped in time, gesture and speech were presented with three different degrees of asynchrony. In the SOA 0 condition, the gesture onset and the speech onset were simultaneous. In the SOA 160 and 360 conditions, speech was delayed by 160 and 360 msec, respectively. ERPs time locked to speech onset showed a significant difference between semantically congruent versus incongruent gesture–speech combinations on the N400 for the SOA 0 and 160 conditions. No significant difference was found for the SOA 360 condition. These results imply that speech and gesture are integrated most efficiently when the differences in onsets do not exceed a certain time span because of the fact that iconic gestures need speech to be disambiguated in a way relevant to the speech context.

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