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Akita, K., & Dingemanse, M. (2019). Ideophones (Mimetics, Expressives). In Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.477.
AbstractIdeophones, also termed “mimetics” or “expressives,” are marked words that depict sensory imagery. They are found in many of the world’s languages, and sizable lexical classes of ideophones are particularly well-documented in languages of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Ideophones are not limited to onomatopoeia like meow and smack, but cover a wide range of sensory domains, such as manner of motion (e.g., plisti plasta ‘splish-splash’ in Basque), texture (e.g., tsaklii ‘rough’ in Ewe), and psychological states (e.g., wakuwaku ‘excited’ in Japanese). Across languages, ideophones stand out as marked words due to special phonotactics, expressive morphology including certain types of reduplication, and relative syntactic independence, in addition to production features like prosodic foregrounding and common co-occurrence with iconic gestures. Three intertwined issues have been repeatedly debated in the century-long literature on ideophones. (a) Definition: Isolated descriptive traditions and cross-linguistic variation have sometimes obscured a typologically unified view of ideophones, but recent advances show the promise of a prototype definition of ideophones as conventionalised depictions in speech, with room for language-specific nuances. (b) Integration: The variable integration of ideophones across linguistic levels reveals an interaction between expressiveness and grammatical integration, and has important implications for how to conceive of dependencies between linguistic systems. (c) Iconicity: Ideophones form a natural laboratory for the study of iconic form-meaning associations in natural languages, and converging evidence from corpus and experimental studies suggests important developmental, evolutionary, and communicative advantages of ideophones.
Azar, Z., Backus, A., & Ozyurek, A. (2019). General and language specific factors influence reference tracking in speech and gesture in discourse. Discourse Processes, 56(7), 553-574. doi:10.1080/0163853X.2018.1519368.
AbstractReferent accessibility influences expressions in speech and gestures in similar ways. Speakers mostly use richer forms as noun phrases (NPs) in speech and gesture more when referents have low accessibility, whereas they use reduced forms such as pronouns more often and gesture less when referents have high accessibility. We investigated the relationships between speech and gesture during reference tracking in a pro-drop language—Turkish. Overt pronouns were not strongly associated with accessibility but with pragmatic context (i.e., marking similarity, contrast). Nevertheless, speakers gestured more when referents were re-introduced versus maintained and when referents were expressed with NPs versus pronouns. Pragmatic context did not influence gestures. Further, pronouns in low-accessibility contexts were accompanied with gestures—possibly for reference disambiguation—more often than previously found for non-pro-drop languages in such contexts. These findings enhance our understanding of the relationships between speech and gesture at the discourse level.
Cuskley, C., Dingemanse, M., Kirby, S., & Van Leeuwen, T. M. (2019). Cross-modal associations and synesthesia: Categorical perception and structure in vowel–color mappings in a large online sample. Behavior Research Methods, 51, 1651-1675. doi:10.3758/s13428-019-01203-7.
AbstractWe report associations between vowel sounds, graphemes, and colours collected online from over 1000 Dutch speakers. We provide open materials including a Python implementation of the structure measure, and code for a single page web application to run simple cross-modal tasks. We also provide a full dataset of colour-vowel associations from 1164 participants, including over 200 synaesthetes identified using consistency measures. Our analysis reveals salient patterns in cross-modal associations, and introduces a novel measure of isomorphism in cross-modal mappings. We find that while acoustic features of vowels significantly predict certain mappings (replicating prior work), both vowel phoneme category and grapheme category are even better predictors of colour choice. Phoneme category is the best predictor of colour choice overall, pointing to the importance of phonological representations in addition to acoustic cues. Generally, high/front vowels are lighter, more green, and more yellow than low/back vowels. Synaesthetes respond more strongly on some dimensions, choosing lighter and more yellow colours for high and mid front vowels than non-synaesthetes. We also present a novel measure of cross-modal mappings adapted from ecology, which uses a simulated distribution of mappings to measure the extent to which participants' actual mappings are structured isomorphically across modalities. Synaesthetes have mappings that tend to be more structured than non-synaesthetes, and more consistent colour choices across trials correlate with higher structure scores. Nevertheless, the large majority (~70%) of participants produce structured mappings, indicating that the capacity to make isomorphically structured mappings across distinct modalities is shared to a large extent, even if the exact nature of mappings varies across individuals. Overall, this novel structure measure suggests a distribution of structured cross-modal association in the population, with synaesthetes on one extreme and participants with unstructured associations on the other.
Dingemanse, M. (2019). 'Ideophone' as a comparative concept. In K. Akita, & P. Pardeshi (
Eds.), Ideophones, Mimetics, and Expressives (pp. 13-33). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi:10.1075/ill.16.02din.
AbstractThis chapter makes the case for ‘ideophone’ as a comparative concept: a notion that captures a recurrent typological pattern and provides a template for understanding language-specific phenomena that prove similar. It revises an earlier definition to account for the observation that ideophones typically form an open lexical class, and uses insights from canonical typology to explore the larger typological space. According to the resulting definition, a canonical ideophone is a member of an open lexical class of marked words that depict sensory imagery. The five elements of this definition can be seen as dimensions that together generate a possibility space to characterise cross-linguistic diversity in depictive means of expression. This approach allows for the systematic comparative treatment of ideophones and ideophone-like phenomena. Some phenomena in the larger typological space are discussed to demonstrate the utility of the approach: phonaesthemes in European languages, specialised semantic classes in West-Chadic, diachronic diversions in Aslian, and depicting constructions in signed languages.
Drijvers, L., Van der Plas, M., Ozyurek, A., & Jensen, O. (2019). Native and non-native listeners show similar yet distinct oscillatory dynamics when using gestures to access speech in noise. NeuroImage, 194, 55-67. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.03.032.
AbstractListeners are often challenged by adverse listening conditions during language comprehension induced by external factors, such as noise, but also internal factors, such as being a non-native listener. Visible cues, such as semantic information conveyed by iconic gestures, can enhance language comprehension in such situations. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG) we investigated whether spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics can predict a listener's benefit of iconic gestures during language comprehension in both internally (non-native versus native listeners) and externally (clear/degraded speech) induced adverse listening conditions. Proficient non-native speakers of Dutch were presented with videos in which an actress uttered a degraded or clear verb, accompanied by a gesture or not, and completed a cued-recall task after every video. The behavioral and oscillatory results obtained from non-native listeners were compared to an MEG study where we presented the same stimuli to native listeners (Drijvers et al., 2018a). Non-native listeners demonstrated a similar gestural enhancement effect as native listeners, but overall scored significantly slower on the cued-recall task. In both native and non-native listeners, an alpha/beta power suppression revealed engagement of the extended language network, motor and visual regions during gestural enhancement of degraded speech comprehension, suggesting similar core processes that support unification and lexical access processes. An individual's alpha/beta power modulation predicted the gestural benefit a listener experienced during degraded speech comprehension. Importantly, however, non-native listeners showed less engagement of the mouth area of the primary somatosensory cortex, left insula (beta), LIFG and ATL (alpha) than native listeners, which suggests that non-native listeners might be hindered in processing the degraded phonological cues and coupling them to the semantic information conveyed by the gesture. Native and non-native listeners thus demonstrated similar yet distinct spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics when recruiting visual cues to disambiguate degraded speech.
Drijvers, L., Vaitonyte, J., & Ozyurek, A. (2019). Degree of language experience modulates visual attention to visible speech and iconic gestures during clear and degraded speech comprehension. Cognitive Science, 43: e12789. doi:10.1111/cogs.12789.
AbstractVisual information conveyed by iconic hand gestures and visible speech can enhance speech comprehension under adverse listening conditions for both native and non‐native listeners. However, how a listener allocates visual attention to these articulators during speech comprehension is unknown. We used eye‐tracking to investigate whether and how native and highly proficient non‐native listeners of Dutch allocated overt eye gaze to visible speech and gestures during clear and degraded speech comprehension. Participants watched video clips of an actress uttering a clear or degraded (6‐band noise‐vocoded) action verb while performing a gesture or not, and were asked to indicate the word they heard in a cued‐recall task. Gestural enhancement was the largest (i.e., a relative reduction in reaction time cost) when speech was degraded for all listeners, but it was stronger for native listeners. Both native and non‐native listeners mostly gazed at the face during comprehension, but non‐native listeners gazed more often at gestures than native listeners. However, only native but not non‐native listeners' gaze allocation to gestures predicted gestural benefit during degraded speech comprehension. We conclude that non‐native listeners might gaze at gesture more as it might be more challenging for non‐native listeners to resolve the degraded auditory cues and couple those cues to phonological information that is conveyed by visible speech. This diminished phonological knowledge might hinder the use of semantic information that is conveyed by gestures for non‐native compared to native listeners. Our results demonstrate that the degree of language experience impacts overt visual attention to visual articulators, resulting in different visual benefits for native versus non‐native listeners.
Additional informationSupporting information
Ortega, G., Schiefner, A., & Ozyurek, A. (2019). Hearing non-signers use their gestures to predict iconic form-meaning mappings at first exposure to sign. Cognition, 191: 103996. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.06.008.
AbstractThe sign languages of deaf communities and the gestures produced by hearing people are communicative systems that exploit the manual-visual modality as means of expression. Despite their striking differences they share the property of iconicity, understood as the direct relationship between a symbol and its referent. Here we investigate whether non-signing hearing adults exploit their implicit knowledge of gestures to bootstrap accurate understanding of the meaning of iconic signs they have never seen before. In Study 1 we show that for some concepts gestures exhibit systematic forms across participants, and share different degrees of form overlap with the signs for the same concepts (full, partial, and no overlap). In Study 2 we found that signs with stronger resemblance with signs are more accurately guessed and are assigned higher iconicity ratings by non-signers than signs with low overlap. In addition, when more people produced a systematic gesture resembling a sign, they assigned higher iconicity ratings to that sign. Furthermore, participants had a bias to assume that signs represent actions and not objects. The similarities between some signs and gestures could be explained by deaf signers and hearing gesturers sharing a conceptual substrate that is rooted in our embodied experiences with the world. The finding that gestural knowledge can ease the interpretation of the meaning of novel signs and predicts iconicity ratings is in line with embodied accounts of cognition and the influence of prior knowledge to acquire new schemas. Through these mechanisms we propose that iconic gestures that overlap in form with signs may serve as some type of ‘manual cognates’ that help non-signing adults to break into a new language at first exposure.
Additional informationSupplementary Materials
Ozyurek, A., & Woll, B. (2019). Language in the visual modality: Cospeech gesture and sign language. In P. Hagoort (
Ed.), Human language: From genes and brain to behavior (pp. 67-83). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rissman, L., & Majid, A. (2019). Thematic roles: Core knowledge or linguistic construct? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 26(6), 1850-1869. doi:10.3758/s13423-019-01634-5.
AbstractThe status of thematic roles such as Agent and Patient in cognitive science is highly controversial: To some they are universal components of core knowledge, to others they are scholarly fictions without psychological reality. We address this debate by posing two critical questions: to what extent do humans represent events in terms of abstract role categories, and to what extent are these categories shaped by universal cognitive biases? We review a range of literature that contributes answers to these questions: psycholinguistic and event cognition experiments with adults, children, and infants; typological studies grounded in cross-linguistic data; and studies of emerging sign languages. We pose these questions for a variety of roles and find that the answers depend on the role. For Agents and Patients, there is strong evidence for abstract role categories and a universal bias to distinguish the two roles. For Goals and Recipients, we find clear evidence for abstraction but mixed evidence as to whether there is a bias to encode Goals and Recipients as part of one or two distinct categories. Finally, we discuss the Instrumental role and do not find clear evidence for either abstraction or universal biases to structure instrumental categories.
Schubotz, L., Ozyurek, A., & Holler, J. (2019). Age-related differences in multimodal recipient design: Younger, but not older adults, adapt speech and co-speech gestures to common ground. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(2), 254-271. doi:10.1080/23273798.2018.1527377.
AbstractSpeakers can adapt their speech and co-speech gestures based on knowledge shared with an addressee (common ground-based recipient design). Here, we investigate whether these adaptations are modulated by the speaker’s age and cognitive abilities. Younger and older participants narrated six short comic stories to a same-aged addressee. Half of each story was known to both participants, the other half only to the speaker. The two age groups did not differ in terms of the number of words and narrative events mentioned per narration, or in terms of gesture frequency, gesture rate, or percentage of events expressed multimodally. However, only the younger participants reduced the amount of verbal and gestural information when narrating mutually known as opposed to novel story content. Age-related differences in cognitive abilities did not predict these differences in common ground-based recipient design. The older participants’ communicative behaviour may therefore also reflect differences in social or pragmatic goals.
Trujillo, J. P., Vaitonyte, J., Simanova, I., & Ozyurek, A. (2019). Toward the markerless and automatic analysis of kinematic features: A toolkit for gesture and movement research. Behavior Research Methods, 51(2), 769-777. doi:10.3758/s13428-018-1086-8.
AbstractAction, gesture, and sign represent unique aspects of human communication that use form and movement to convey meaning. Researchers typically use manual coding of video data to characterize naturalistic, meaningful movements at various levels of description, but the availability of markerless motion-tracking technology allows for quantification of the kinematic features of gestures or any meaningful human movement. We present a novel protocol for extracting a set of kinematic features from movements recorded with Microsoft Kinect. Our protocol captures spatial and temporal features, such as height, velocity, submovements/strokes, and holds. This approach is based on studies of communicative actions and gestures and attempts to capture features that are consistently implicated as important kinematic aspects of communication. We provide open-source code for the protocol, a description of how the features are calculated, a validation of these features as quantified by our protocol versus manual coders, and a discussion of how the protocol can be applied. The protocol effectively quantifies kinematic features that are important in the production (e.g., characterizing different contexts) as well as the comprehension (e.g., used by addressees to understand intent and semantics) of manual acts. The protocol can also be integrated with qualitative analysis, allowing fast and objective demarcation of movement units, providing accurate coding even of complex movements. This can be useful to clinicians, as well as to researchers studying multimodal communication or human–robot interactions. By making this protocol available, we hope to provide a tool that can be applied to understanding meaningful movement characteristics in human communication.
Van Leeuwen, T. M., Van Petersen, E., Burghoorn, F., Dingemanse, M., & Van Lier, R. (2019). Autistic traits in synaesthesia: Atypical sensory sensitivity and enhanced perception of details. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 374: 20190024. doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0024.
AbstractIn synaesthetes specific sensory stimuli (e.g., black letters) elicit additional experiences (e.g. colour). Synaesthesia is highly prevalent among individuals with autism spectrum disorder but the mechanisms of this co-occurrence are not clear. We hypothesized autism and synaesthesia share atypical sensory sensitivity and perception. We assessed autistic traits, sensory sensitivity, and visual perception in two synaesthete populations. In Study 1, synaesthetes (N=79, of different types) scored higher than non-synaesthetes (N=76) on the Attention-to-detail and Social skills subscales of the Autism Spectrum Quotient indexing autistic traits, and on the Glasgow Sensory Questionnaire indexing sensory hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity which frequently occur in autism. Synaesthetes performed two local/global visual tasks because individuals with autism typically show a bias toward detail processing. In synaesthetes, elevated motion coherence thresholds suggested reduced global motion perception and higher accuracy on an embedded figures task suggested enhanced local perception. In Study 2 sequence-space synaesthetes (N=18) completed the same tasks. Questionnaire and embedded figures results qualitatively resembled Study 1 results but no significant group differences with non-synaesthetes (N=20) were obtained. Unexpectedly, sequence-space synaesthetes had reduced motion coherence thresholds. Altogether, our studies suggest atypical sensory sensitivity and a bias towards detail processing are shared features of synaesthesia and autism spectrum disorder.
Dingemanse, M., Blythe, J., & Dirksmeyer, T. (2018). Formats for other-initiation of repair across languages: An exercise in pragmatic typology. In I. Nikolaeva (
Ed.), Linguistic Typology: Critical Concepts in Linguistics. Vol. 4 (pp. 322-357). London: Routledge.
AbstractIn conversation, people regularly deal with problems of speaking, hearing, and understanding. We report on a cross-linguistic investigation of the conversational structure of other-initiated repair (also known as collaborative repair, feedback, requests for clarification, or grounding sequences). We take stock of formats for initiating repair across languages (comparable to English huh?, who?, y’mean X?, etc.) and find that different languages make available a wide but remarkably similar range of linguistic resources for this function. We exploit the patterned variation as evidence for several underlying concerns addressed by repair initiation: characterising trouble, managing responsibility, and handling knowledge. The concerns do not always point in the same direction and thus provide participants in interaction with alternative principles for selecting one format over possible others. By comparing conversational structures across languages, this paper contributes to pragmatic typology: the typology of systems of language use and the principles that shape them.
Dingemanse, M. (2018). Redrawing the margins of language: Lessons from research on ideophones. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 3(1): 4. doi:10.5334/gjgl.444.
AbstractIdeophones (also known as expressives or mimetics, and including onomatopoeia) have been systematically studied in linguistics since the 1850s, when they were first described as a lexical class of vivid sensory words in West-African languages. This paper surveys the research history of ideophones, from its roots in African linguistics to its fruits in general linguistics and typology around the globe. It shows that despite a recurrent narrative of marginalisation, work on ideophones has made an impact in many areas of linguistics, from theories of phonological features to typologies of manner and motion, and from sound symbolism to sensory language. Due to their hybrid nature as gradient vocal gestures that grow roots in discrete linguistic systems, ideophones provide opportunities to reframe typological questions, reconsider the role of language ideology in linguistic scholarship, and rethink the margins of language. With ideophones increasingly being brought into the fold of the language sciences, this review synthesises past theoretical insights and empirical findings in order to enable future work to build on them.
Drijvers, L., Ozyurek, A., & Jensen, O. (2018). Alpha and beta oscillations index semantic congruency between speech and gestures in clear and degraded speech. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 30(8), 1086-1097. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01301.
AbstractPrevious work revealed that visual semantic information conveyed by gestures can enhance degraded speech comprehension, but the mechanisms underlying these integration processes under adverse listening conditions remain poorly understood. We used MEG to investigate how oscillatory dynamics support speech–gesture integration when integration load is manipulated by auditory (e.g., speech degradation) and visual semantic (e.g., gesture congruency) factors. Participants were presented with videos of an actress uttering an action verb in clear or degraded speech, accompanied by a matching (mixing gesture + “mixing”) or mismatching (drinking gesture + “walking”) gesture. In clear speech, alpha/beta power was more suppressed in the left inferior frontal gyrus and motor and visual cortices when integration load increased in response to mismatching versus matching gestures. In degraded speech, beta power was less suppressed over posterior STS and medial temporal lobe for mismatching compared with matching gestures, showing that integration load was lowest when speech was degraded and mismatching gestures could not be integrated and disambiguate the degraded signal. Our results thus provide novel insights on how low-frequency oscillatory modulations in different parts of the cortex support the semantic audiovisual integration of gestures in clear and degraded speech: When speech is clear, the left inferior frontal gyrus and motor and visual cortices engage because higher-level semantic information increases semantic integration load. When speech is degraded, posterior STS/middle temporal gyrus and medial temporal lobe are less engaged because integration load is lowest when visual semantic information does not aid lexical retrieval and speech and gestures cannot be integrated.
Drijvers, L., Ozyurek, A., & Jensen, O. (2018). Hearing and seeing meaning in noise: Alpha, beta and gamma oscillations predict gestural enhancement of degraded speech comprehension. Human Brain Mapping, 39(5), 2075-2087. doi:10.1002/hbm.23987.
AbstractDuring face-to-face communication, listeners integrate speech with gestures. The semantic information conveyed by iconic gestures (e.g., a drinking gesture) can aid speech comprehension in adverse listening conditions. In this magnetoencephalography (MEG) study, we investigated the spatiotemporal neural oscillatory activity associated with gestural enhancement of degraded speech comprehension. Participants watched videos of an actress uttering clear or degraded speech, accompanied by a gesture or not and completed a cued-recall task after watching every video. When gestures semantically disambiguated degraded speech comprehension, an alpha and beta power suppression and a gamma power increase revealed engagement and active processing in the hand-area of the motor cortex, the extended language network (LIFG/pSTS/STG/MTG), medial temporal lobe, and occipital regions. These observed low- and high-frequency oscillatory modulations in these areas support general unification, integration and lexical access processes during online language comprehension, and simulation of and increased visual attention to manual gestures over time. All individual oscillatory power modulations associated with gestural enhancement of degraded speech comprehension predicted a listener's correct disambiguation of the degraded verb after watching the videos. Our results thus go beyond the previously proposed role of oscillatory dynamics in unimodal degraded speech comprehension and provide first evidence for the role of low- and high-frequency oscillations in predicting the integration of auditory and visual information at a semantic level.
Drijvers, L., & Ozyurek, A. (2018). Native language status of the listener modulates the neural integration of speech and iconic gestures in clear and adverse listening conditions. Brain and Language, 177-178, 7-17. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2018.01.003.
AbstractNative listeners neurally integrate iconic gestures with speech, which can enhance degraded speech comprehension. However, it is unknown how non-native listeners neurally integrate speech and gestures, as they might process visual semantic context differently than natives. We recorded EEG while native and highly-proficient non-native listeners watched videos of an actress uttering an action verb in clear or degraded speech, accompanied by a matching ('to drive'+driving gesture) or mismatching gesture ('to drink'+mixing gesture). Degraded speech elicited an enhanced N400 amplitude compared to clear speech in both groups, revealing an increase in neural resources needed to resolve the spoken input. A larger N400 effect was found in clear speech for non-natives compared to natives, but in degraded speech only for natives. Non-native listeners might thus process gesture more strongly than natives when speech is clear, but need more auditory cues to facilitate access to gestural semantic information when speech is degraded.
Floyd, S., Rossi, G., Baranova, J., Blythe, J., Dingemanse, M., Kendrick, K. H., Zinken, J., & Enfield, N. J. (2018). Universals and cultural diversity in the expression of gratitude. Royal Society Open Science, 5: 180391. doi:10.1098/rsos.180391.
AbstractGratitude is argued to have evolved to motivate and maintain social reciprocity among people, and to be linked to a wide range of positive effects — social, psychological, and even physical. But is socially reciprocal behaviour dependent on the expression of gratitude, for example by saying "thank you" as in English? Current research has not included cross-cultural elements, and has tended to conflate gratitude as an emotion with gratitude as a linguistic practice, as might appear to be the case in English. Here we ask to what extent people actually express gratitude in different societies by focussing on episodes of everyday life where someone obtains a good, service, or support from another, and comparing these episodes across eight languages from five continents. What we find is that expressions of gratitude in these episodes are remarkably rare, suggesting that social reciprocity in everyday life relies on tacit understandings of people’s rights and duties surrounding mutual assistance and collaboration. At the same time, we also find minor cross-cultural variation, with slightly higher rates in Western European languages English and Italian, showing that universal tendencies of social reciprocity should not be conflated with more culturally variable practices of expressing gratitude. Our study complements previous experimental and culture-specific research on social reciprocity with a systematic comparison of audiovisual corpora of naturally occurring social interaction from different cultures from around the world.
Majid, A., Roberts, S. G., Cilissen, L., Emmorey, K., Nicodemus, B., O'Grady, L., Woll, B., LeLan, B., De Sousa, H., Cansler, B. L., Shayan, S., De Vos, C., Senft, G., Enfield, N. J., Razak, R. A., Fedden, S., Tufvesson, S., Dingemanse, M., Ozturk, O., Brown, P. and 6 moreMajid, A., Roberts, S. G., Cilissen, L., Emmorey, K., Nicodemus, B., O'Grady, L., Woll, B., LeLan, B., De Sousa, H., Cansler, B. L., Shayan, S., De Vos, C., Senft, G., Enfield, N. J., Razak, R. A., Fedden, S., Tufvesson, S., Dingemanse, M., Ozturk, O., Brown, P., Hill, C., Le Guen, O., Hirtzel, V., Van Gijn, R., Sicoli, M. A., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Differential coding of perception in the world’s languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(45), 11369-11376. doi:10.1073/pnas.1720419115.
AbstractIs there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal hierarchy of the senses, stimuli from the five basic senses were used to elicit descriptions in 20 diverse languages, including 3 unrelated sign languages. We found that languages differ fundamentally in which sensory domains they linguistically code systematically, and how they do so. The tendency for better coding in some domains can be explained in part by cultural preoccupations. Although languages seem free to elaborate specific sensory domains, some general tendencies emerge: for example, with some exceptions, smell is poorly coded. The surprise is that, despite the gradual phylogenetic accumulation of the senses, and the imbalances in the neural tissue dedicated to them, no single hierarchy of the senses imposes itself upon language.
Ozyurek, A. (2018). Cross-linguistic variation in children’s multimodal utterances. In M. Hickmann, E. Veneziano, & H. Jisa (
Eds.), Sources of variation in first language acquisition: Languages, contexts, and learners (pp. 123-138). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
AbstractOur ability to use language is multimodal and requires tight coordination between what is expressed in speech and in gesture, such as pointing or iconic gestures that convey semantic, syntactic and pragmatic information related to speakers’ messages. Interestingly, what is expressed in gesture and how it is coordinated with speech differs in speakers of different languages. This paper discusses recent findings on the development of children’s multimodal expressions taking cross-linguistic variation into account. Although some aspects of speech-gesture development show language-specificity from an early age, it might still take children until nine years of age to exhibit fully adult patterns of cross-linguistic variation. These findings reveal insights about how children coordinate different levels of representations given that their development is constrained by patterns that are specific to their languages.
Ozyurek, A. (2018). Role of gesture in language processing: Toward a unified account for production and comprehension. In S.-A. Rueschemeyer, & M. G. Gaskell (
Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics (2nd ed., pp. 592-607). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198786825.013.25.
AbstractUse of language in face-to-face context is multimodal. Production and perception of speech take place in the context of visual articulators such as lips, face, or hand gestures which convey relevant information to what is expressed in speech at different levels of language. While lips convey information at the phonological level, gestures contribute to semantic, pragmatic, and syntactic information, as well as to discourse cohesion. This chapter overviews recent findings showing that speech and gesture (e.g. a drinking gesture as someone says, “Would you like a drink?”) interact during production and comprehension of language at the behavioral, cognitive, and neural levels. Implications of these findings for current psycholinguistic theories and how they can be expanded to consider the multimodal context of language processing are discussed.
Trujillo, J. P., Simanova, I., Bekkering, H., & Ozyurek, A. (2018). Communicative intent modulates production and perception of actions and gestures: A Kinect study. Cognition, 180, 38-51. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.04.003.
AbstractActions may be used to directly act on the world around us, or as a means of communication. Effective communication requires the addressee to recognize the act as being communicative. Humans are sensitive to ostensive communicative cues, such as direct eye gaze (Csibra & Gergely, 2009). However, there may be additional cues present in the action or gesture itself. Here we investigate features that characterize the initiation of a communicative interaction in both production and comprehension. We asked 40 participants to perform 31 pairs of object-directed actions and representational gestures in more- or less- communicative contexts. Data were collected using motion capture technology for kinematics and video recording for eye-gaze. With these data, we focused on two issues. First, if and how actions and gestures are systematically modulated when performed in a communicative context. Second, if observers exploit such kinematic information to classify an act as communicative. Our study showed that during production the communicative context modulates space–time dimensions of kinematics and elicits an increase in addressee-directed eye-gaze. Naïve participants detected communicative intent in actions and gestures preferentially using eye-gaze information, only utilizing kinematic information when eye-gaze was unavailable. Our study highlights the general communicative modulation of action and gesture kinematics during production but also shows that addressees only exploit this modulation to recognize communicative intention in the absence of eye-gaze. We discuss these findings in terms of distinctive but potentially overlapping functions of addressee directed eye-gaze and kinematic modulations within the wider context of human communication and learning.
Drijvers, L., & Ozyurek, A. (2017). Visual context enhanced: The joint contribution of iconic gestures and visible speech to degraded speech comprehension. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60, 212-222. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-H-16-0101.
AbstractPurpose This study investigated whether and to what extent iconic co-speech gestures contribute to information from visible speech to enhance degraded speech comprehension at different levels of noise-vocoding. Previous studies of the contributions of these 2 visual articulators to speech comprehension have only been performed separately. Method Twenty participants watched videos of an actress uttering an action verb and completed a free-recall task. The videos were presented in 3 speech conditions (2-band noise-vocoding, 6-band noise-vocoding, clear), 3 multimodal conditions (speech + lips blurred, speech + visible speech, speech + visible speech + gesture), and 2 visual-only conditions (visible speech, visible speech + gesture). Results Accuracy levels were higher when both visual articulators were present compared with 1 or none. The enhancement effects of (a) visible speech, (b) gestural information on top of visible speech, and (c) both visible speech and iconic gestures were larger in 6-band than 2-band noise-vocoding or visual-only conditions. Gestural enhancement in 2-band noise-vocoding did not differ from gestural enhancement in visual-only conditions.
Ketrez, F. N., Kuntay, A. C., Ozcaliskan, S., & Ozyurek, A. (
Eds.). (2017). Social environment and cognition in language development: Studies in honor of Ayhan Aksu-Koc. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
AbstractLanguage development is driven by multiple factors involving both the individual child and the environments that surround the child. The chapters in this volume highlight several such factors as potential contributors to developmental change, including factors that examine the role of immediate social environment (i.e., parent SES, parent and sibling input, peer interaction) and factors that focus on the child’s own cognitive and social development, such as the acquisition of theory of mind, event knowledge, and memory. The discussion of the different factors is presented largely from a crosslinguistic framework, using a multimodal perspective (speech, gesture, sign). The book celebrates the scholarly contributions of Prof. Ayhan Aksu-Koç – a pioneer in the study of crosslinguistic variation in language acquisition, particularly in the domain of evidentiality and theory of mind. This book will serve as an important resource for researchers in the field of developmental psychology, cognitive science, and linguistics across the globe
Ortega, G., Sumer, B., & Ozyurek, A. (2017). Type of iconicity matters in the vocabulary development of signing children. Developmental Psychology, 53(1), 89-99. doi:10.1037/dev0000161.
AbstractRecent research on signed as well as spoken language shows that the iconic features of the target language might play a role in language development. Here, we ask further whether different types of iconic depictions modulate children’s preferences for certain types of sign-referent links during vocabulary development in sign language. Results from a picture description task indicate that lexical signs with 2 possible variants are used in different proportions by deaf signers from different age groups. While preschool and school-age children favored variants representing actions associated with their referent (e.g., a writing hand for the sign PEN), adults preferred variants representing the perceptual features of those objects (e.g., upward index finger representing a thin, elongated object for the sign PEN). Deaf parents interacting with their children, however, used action- and perceptual-based variants in equal proportion and favored action variants more than adults signing to other adults. We propose that when children are confronted with 2 variants for the same concept, they initially prefer action-based variants because they give them the opportunity to link a linguistic label to familiar schemas linked to their action/motor experiences. Our results echo findings showing a bias for action-based depictions in the development of iconic co-speech gestures suggesting a modality bias for such representations during development.
Ozyurek, A. (2017). Function and processing of gesture in the context of language. In R. B. Church, M. W. Alibali, & S. D. Kelly (
Eds.), Why gesture? How the hands function in speaking, thinking and communicating (pp. 39-58). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. doi:10.1075/gs.7.03ozy.
AbstractMost research focuses function of gesture independent of its link to the speech it accompanies and the coexpressive functions it has together with speech. This chapter instead approaches gesture in relation to its communicative function in relation to speech, and demonstrates how it is shaped by the linguistic encoding of a speaker’s message. Drawing on crosslinguistic research with adults and children as well as bilinguals on iconic/pointing gesture production it shows that the specific language speakers use modulates the rate and the shape of the iconic gesture production of the same events. The findings challenge the claims aiming to understand gesture’s function for “thinking only” in adults and during development.
Peeters, D., Snijders, T. M., Hagoort, P., & Ozyurek, A. (2017). Linking language to the visual world: Neural correlates of comprehending verbal reference to objects through pointing and visual cues. Neuropsychologia, 95, 21-29. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.12.004.
AbstractIn everyday communication speakers often refer in speech and/or gesture to objects in their immediate environment, thereby shifting their addressee's attention to an intended referent. The neurobiological infrastructure involved in the comprehension of such basic multimodal communicative acts remains unclear. In an event-related fMRI study, we presented participants with pictures of a speaker and two objects while they concurrently listened to her speech. In each picture, one of the objects was singled out, either through the speaker's index-finger pointing gesture or through a visual cue that made the object perceptually more salient in the absence of gesture. A mismatch (compared to a match) between speech and the object singled out by the speaker's pointing gesture led to enhanced activation in left IFG and bilateral pMTG, showing the importance of these areas in conceptual matching between speech and referent. Moreover, a match (compared to a mismatch) between speech and the object made salient through a visual cue led to enhanced activation in the mentalizing system, arguably reflecting an attempt to converge on a jointly attended referent in the absence of pointing. These findings shed new light on the neurobiological underpinnings of the core communicative process of comprehending a speaker's multimodal referential act and stress the power of pointing as an important natural device to link speech to objects.
Sumer, B., Perniss, P. M., & Ozyurek, A. (2017). A first study on the development of spatial viewpoint in sign language acquisition: The case of Turkish Sign Language. In F. N. Ketrez, A. C. Kuntay, S. Ozcalıskan, & A. Ozyurek (
Eds.), Social Environment and Cognition in Language Development: Studies in Honor of Ayhan Aksu-Koc (pp. 223-240). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi:10.1075/tilar.21.14sum.
AbstractThe current study examines, for the first time, the viewpoint preferences of signing children in expressing spatial relations that require imposing a viewpoint (left-right, front-behind). We elicited spatial descriptions from deaf children (4–9 years of age) acquiring Turkish Sign Language (TİD) natively from their deaf parents and from adult native signers of TİD. Adults produced these spatial descriptions from their own viewpoint and from that of their addressee depending on whether the objects were located on the lateral or the sagittal axis. TİD-acquiring children, on the other hand, described all spatial configurations from their own viewpoint. Differences were also found between children and adults in the type of linguistic devices and how they are used to express such spatial relations.
Dimitrova, D. V., Chu, M., Wang, L., Ozyurek, A., & Hagoort, P. (2016). Beat that word: How listeners integrate beat gesture and focus in multimodal speech discourse. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 28(9), 1255-1269. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00963.
AbstractCommunication is facilitated when listeners allocate their attention to important information (focus) in the message, a process called "information structure." Linguistic cues like the preceding context and pitch accent help listeners to identify focused information. In multimodal communication, relevant information can be emphasized by nonverbal cues like beat gestures, which represent rhythmic nonmeaningful hand movements. Recent studies have found that linguistic and nonverbal attention cues are integrated independently in single sentences. However, it is possible that these two cues interact when information is embedded in context, because context allows listeners to predict what information is important. In an ERP study, we tested this hypothesis and asked listeners to view videos capturing a dialogue. In the critical sentence, focused and nonfocused words were accompanied by beat gestures, grooming hand movements, or no gestures. ERP results showed that focused words are processed more attentively than nonfocused words as reflected in an N1 and P300 component. Hand movements also captured attention and elicited a P300 component. Importantly, beat gesture and focus interacted in a late time window of 600-900 msec relative to target word onset, giving rise to a late positivity when nonfocused words were accompanied by beat gestures. Our results show that listeners integrate beat gesture with the focus of the message and that integration costs arise when beat gesture falls on nonfocused information. This suggests that beat gestures fulfill a unique focusing function in multimodal discourse processing and that they have to be integrated with the information structure of the message.
Sumer, B., & Ozyurek, A. (2016). İşitme Engelli Çocukların Dil Edinimi [Sign language acquisition by deaf children]. In C. Aydin, T. Goksun, A. Kuntay, & D. Tahiroglu (
Eds.), Aklın Çocuk Hali: Zihin Gelişimi Araştırmaları [Research on Cognitive Development] (pp. 365-388). Istanbul: Koc University Press.
Sumer, B., Zwitserlood, I., Perniss, P., & Ozyurek, A. (2016). Yer Bildiren İfadelerin Türkçe ve Türk İşaret Dili’nde (TİD) Çocuklar Tarafından Edinimi [The acqusition of spatial relations by children in Turkish and Turkish Sign Language (TID)]. In E. Arik (
Ed.), Ellerle Konuşmak: Türk İşaret Dili Araştırmaları [Speaking with hands: Studies on Turkish Sign Language] (pp. 157-182). Istanbul: Koç University Press.
Azar, Z., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Discourse Management: Reference tracking in speech and gesture in Turkish narratives. Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 222-240. doi:10.1075/dujal.4.2.06aza.
AbstractSpeakers achieve coherence in discourse by alternating between differential lexical forms e.g. noun phrase, pronoun, and null form in accordance with the accessibility of the entities they refer to, i.e. whether they introduce an entity into discourse for the first time or continue referring to an entity they already mentioned before. Moreover, tracking of entities in discourse is a multimodal phenomenon. Studies show that speakers are sensitive to the informational structure of discourse and use fuller forms (e.g. full noun phrases) in speech and gesture more when re-introducing an entity while they use attenuated forms (e.g. pronouns) in speech and gesture less when maintaining a referent. However, those studies focus mainly on non-pro-drop languages (e.g. English, German and French). The present study investigates whether the same pattern holds for pro-drop languages. It draws data from adult native speakers of Turkish using elicited narratives. We find that Turkish speakers mostly use fuller forms to code subject referents in re-introduction context and the null form in maintenance context and they point to gesture space for referents more in re-introduction context compared maintained context. Hence we provide supportive evidence for the reverse correlation between the accessibility of a discourse referent and its coding in speech and gesture. We also find that, as a novel contribution, third person pronoun is used in re-introduction context only when the referent was previously mentioned as the object argument of the immediately preceding clause.
Goldin-Meadow, S., Namboodiripad, S., Mylander, C., Ozyurek, A., & Sancar, B. (2015). The resilience of structure built around the predicate: Homesign gesture systems in Turkish and American deaf children. Journal of Cognition and Development, 16, 55-80. doi:10.1080/15248372.2013.803970.
AbstractDeaf children whose hearing losses prevent them from accessing spoken language and whose hearing parents have not exposed them to sign language develop gesture systems, called homesigns, which have many of the properties of natural language—the so-called resilient properties of language. We explored the resilience of structure built around the predicate—in particular, how manner and path are mapped onto the verb—in homesign systems developed by deaf children in Turkey and the United States. We also asked whether the Turkish homesigners exhibit sentence-level structures previously identified as resilient in American and Chinese homesigners. We found that the Turkish and American deaf children used not only the same production probability and ordering patterns to indicate who does what to whom, but also used the same segmentation and conflation patterns to package manner and path. The gestures that the hearing parents produced did not, for the most part, display the patterns found in the children's gestures. Although cospeech gesture may provide the building blocks for homesign, it does not provide the blueprint for these resilient properties of language.
Holler, J., Kokal, I., Toni, I., Hagoort, P., Kelly, S. D., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Eye’m talking to you: Speakers’ gaze direction modulates co-speech gesture processing in the right MTG. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 10, 255-261. doi:10.1093/scan/nsu047.
AbstractRecipients process information from speech and co-speech gestures, but it is currently unknown how this processing is influenced by the presence of other important social cues, especially gaze direction, a marker of communicative intent. Such cues may modulate neural activity in regions associated either with the processing of ostensive cues, such as eye gaze, or with the processing of semantic information, provided by speech and gesture. Participants were scanned (fMRI) while taking part in triadic communication involving two recipients and a speaker. The speaker uttered sentences that were and were not accompanied by complementary iconic gestures. Crucially, the speaker alternated her gaze direction, thus creating two recipient roles: addressed (direct gaze) vs unaddressed (averted gaze) recipient. The comprehension of Speech&Gesture relative to SpeechOnly utterances recruited middle occipital, middle temporal and inferior frontal gyri, bilaterally. The calcarine sulcus and posterior cingulate cortex were sensitive to differences between direct and averted gaze. Most importantly, Speech&Gesture utterances, but not SpeechOnly utterances, produced additional activity in the right middle temporal gyrus when participants were addressed. Marking communicative intent with gaze direction modulates the processing of speech–gesture utterances in cerebral areas typically associated with the semantic processing of multi-modal communicative acts.
Kelly, S., Healey, M., Ozyurek, A., & Holler, J. (2015). The processing of speech, gesture and action during language comprehension. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22, 517-523. doi:10.3758/s13423-014-0681-7.
AbstractHand gestures and speech form a single integrated system of meaning during language comprehension, but is gesture processed with speech in a unique fashion? We had subjects watch multimodal videos that presented auditory (words) and visual (gestures and actions on objects) information. Half of the subjects related the audio information to a written prime presented before the video, and the other half related the visual information to the written prime. For half of the multimodal video stimuli, the audio and visual information contents were congruent, and for the other half, they were incongruent. For all subjects, stimuli in which the gestures and actions were incongruent with the speech produced more errors and longer response times than did stimuli that were congruent, but this effect was less prominent for speech-action stimuli than for speech-gesture stimuli. However, subjects focusing on visual targets were more accurate when processing actions than gestures. These results suggest that although actions may be easier to process than gestures, gestures may be more tightly tied to the processing of accompanying speech.
Ozyurek, A., Furman, R., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2015). On the way to language: Event segmentation in homesign and gesture. Journal of Child Language, 42, 64-94. doi:10.1017/S0305000913000512.
AbstractLanguages typically express semantic components of motion events such as manner (roll) and path (down) in separate lexical items. We explore how these combinatorial possibilities of language arise by focusing on (i) gestures produced by deaf children who lack access to input from a conventional language (homesign); (ii) gestures produced by hearing adults and children while speaking; and (iii) gestures used by hearing adults without speech when asked to do so in elicited descriptions of motion events with simultaneous manner and path. Homesigners tended to conflate manner and path in one gesture, but also used a mixed form, adding a manner and/or path gesture to the conflated form sequentially. Hearing speakers, with or without speech, used the conflated form, gestured manner, or path, but rarely used the mixed form. Mixed form may serve as an intermediate structure on the way to the discrete and sequenced forms found in natural languages.
Peeters, D., Chu, M., Holler, J., Hagoort, P., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Electrophysiological and kinematic correlates of communicative intent in the planning and production of pointing gestures and speech. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(12), 2352-2368. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00865.
AbstractIn everyday human communication, we often express our communicative intentions by manually pointing out referents in the material world around us to an addressee, often in tight synchronization with referential speech. This study investigated whether and how the kinematic form of index finger pointing gestures is shaped by the gesturer's communicative intentions and how this is modulated by the presence of concurrently produced speech. Furthermore, we explored the neural mechanisms underpinning the planning of communicative pointing gestures and speech. Two experiments were carried out in which participants pointed at referents for an addressee while the informativeness of their gestures and speech was varied. Kinematic and electrophysiological data were recorded online. It was found that participants prolonged the duration of the stroke and poststroke hold phase of their gesture to be more communicative, in particular when the gesture was carrying the main informational burden in their multimodal utterance. Frontal and P300 effects in the ERPs suggested the importance of intentional and modality-independent attentional mechanisms during the planning phase of informative pointing gestures. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the complex interplay between action, attention, intention, and language in the production of pointing gestures, a communicative act core to human interaction.
Peeters, D., Hagoort, P., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Electrophysiological evidence for the role of shared space in online comprehension of spatial demonstratives. Cognition, 136, 64-84. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.10.010.
AbstractA fundamental property of language is that it can be used to refer to entities in the extra-linguistic physical context of a conversation in order to establish a joint focus of attention on a referent. Typological and psycholinguistic work across a wide range of languages has put forward at least two different theoretical views on demonstrative reference. Here we contrasted and tested these two accounts by investigating the electrophysiological brain activity underlying the construction of indexical meaning in comprehension. In two EEG experiments, participants watched pictures of a speaker who referred to one of two objects using speech and an index-finger pointing gesture. In contrast with separately collected native speakers’ linguistic intuitions, N400 effects showed a preference for a proximal demonstrative when speaker and addressee were in a face-to-face orientation and all possible referents were located in the shared space between them, irrespective of the physical proximity of the referent to the speaker. These findings reject egocentric proximity-based accounts of demonstrative reference, support a sociocentric approach to deixis, suggest that interlocutors construe a shared space during conversation, and imply that the psychological proximity of a referent may be more important than its physical proximity.
Perniss, P. M., Zwitserlood, I., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Does space structure spatial language? A comparison of spatial expression across sign languages. Language, 91(3), 611-641.
AbstractThe spatial affordances of the visual modality give rise to a high degree of similarity between sign languages in the spatial domain. This stands in contrast to the vast structural and semantic diversity in linguistic encoding of space found in spoken languages. However, the possibility and nature of linguistic diversity in spatial encoding in sign languages has not been rigorously investigated by systematic crosslinguistic comparison. Here, we compare locative expression in two unrelated sign languages, Turkish Sign Language (Türk İşaret Dili, TİD) and German Sign Language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache, DGS), focusing on the expression of figure-ground (e.g. cup on table) and figure-figure (e.g. cup next to cup) relationships in a discourse context. In addition to similarities, we report qualitative and quantitative differences between the sign languages in the formal devices used (i.e. unimanual vs. bimanual; simultaneous vs. sequential) and in the degree of iconicity of the spatial devices. Our results suggest that sign languages may display more diversity in the spatial domain than has been previously assumed, and in a way more comparable with the diversity found in spoken languages. The study contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of how space gets encoded in language
Perniss, P. M., & Ozyurek, A. (2015). Visible cohesion: A comparison of reference tracking in sign, speech, and co-speech gesture. Topics in Cognitive Science, 7(1), 36-60. doi:10.1111/tops.12122.
AbstractEstablishing and maintaining reference is a crucial part of discourse. In spoken languages, differential linguistic devices mark referents occurring in different referential contexts, that is, introduction, maintenance, and re-introduction contexts. Speakers using gestures as well as users of sign languages have also been shown to mark referents differentially depending on the referential context. This article investigates the modality-specific contribution of the visual modality in marking referential context by providing a direct comparison between sign language (German Sign Language; DGS) and co-speech gesture with speech (German) in elicited narratives. Across all forms of expression, we find that referents in subject position are referred to with more marking material in re-introduction contexts compared to maintenance contexts. Furthermore, we find that spatial modification is used as a modality-specific strategy in both DGS and German co-speech gesture, and that the configuration of referent locations in sign space and gesture space corresponds in an iconic and consistent way to the locations of referents in the narrated event. However, we find that spatial modification is used in different ways for marking re-introduction and maintenance contexts in DGS and German co-speech gesture. The findings are discussed in relation to the unique contribution of the visual modality to reference tracking in discourse when it is used in a unimodal system with full linguistic structure (i.e., as in sign) versus in a bimodal system that is a composite of speech and gesture
Perniss, P. M., Ozyurek, A., & Morgan, G. (2015). The Influence of the visual modality on language structure and conventionalization: Insights from sign language and gesture. Topics in Cognitive Science, 7(1), 2-11. doi:10.1111/tops.12127.
AbstractFor humans, the ability to communicate and use language is instantiated not only in the vocal modality but also in the visual modality. The main examples of this are sign languages and (co-speech) gestures. Sign languages, the natural languages of Deaf communities, use systematic and conventionalized movements of the hands, face, and body for linguistic expression. Co-speech gestures, though non-linguistic, are produced in tight semantic and temporal integration with speech and constitute an integral part of language together with speech. The articles in this issue explore and document how gestures and sign languages are similar or different and how communicative expression in the visual modality can change from being gestural to grammatical in nature through processes of conventionalization. As such, this issue contributes to our understanding of how the visual modality shapes language and the emergence of linguistic structure in newly developing systems. Studying the relationship between signs and gestures provides a new window onto the human ability to recruit multiple levels of representation (e.g., categorical, gradient, iconic, abstract) in the service of using or creating conventionalized communicative systems.
Emmorey, K., & Ozyurek, A. (2014). Language in our hands: Neural underpinnings of sign language and co-speech gesture. In M. S. Gazzaniga, & G. R. Mangun (
Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences (5th ed., pp. 657-666). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Furman, R., Kuntay, A., & Ozyurek, A. (2014). Early language-specificity of children's event encoding in speech and gesture: Evidence from caused motion in Turkish. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 29, 620-634. doi:10.1080/01690965.2013.824993.
AbstractPrevious research on language development shows that children are tuned early on to the language-specific semantic and syntactic encoding of events in their native language. Here we ask whether language-specificity is also evident in children's early representations in gesture accompanying speech. In a longitudinal study, we examined the spontaneous speech and cospeech gestures of eight Turkish-speaking children aged one to three and focused on their caused motion event expressions. In Turkish, unlike in English, the main semantic elements of caused motion such as Action and Path can be encoded in the verb (e.g. sok- ‘put in’) and the arguments of a verb can be easily omitted. We found that Turkish-speaking children's speech indeed displayed these language-specific features and focused on verbs to encode caused motion. More interestingly, we found that their early gestures also manifested specificity. Children used iconic cospeech gestures (from 19 months onwards) as often as pointing gestures and represented semantic elements such as Action with Figure and/or Path that reinforced or supplemented speech in language-specific ways until the age of three. In the light of previous reports on the scarcity of iconic gestures in English-speaking children's early productions, we argue that the language children learn shapes gestures and how they get integrated with speech in the first three years of life.
Holler, J., Schubotz, L., Kelly, S., Hagoort, P., Schuetze, M., & Ozyurek, A. (2014). Social eye gaze modulates processing of speech and co-speech gesture. Cognition, 133, 692-697. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.08.008.
AbstractIn human face-to-face communication, language comprehension is a multi-modal, situated activity. However, little is known about how we combine information from different modalities during comprehension, and how perceived communicative intentions, often signaled through visual signals, influence this process. We explored this question by simulating a multi-party communication context in which a speaker alternated her gaze between two recipients. Participants viewed speech-only or speech + gesture object-related messages when being addressed (direct gaze) or unaddressed (gaze averted to other participant). They were then asked to choose which of two object images matched the speaker’s preceding message. Unaddressed recipients responded significantly more slowly than addressees for speech-only utterances. However, perceiving the same speech accompanied by gestures sped unaddressed recipients up to a level identical to that of addressees. That is, when unaddressed recipients’ speech processing suffers, gestures can enhance the comprehension of a speaker’s message. We discuss our findings with respect to two hypotheses attempting to account for how social eye gaze may modulate multi-modal language comprehension.
Ozyurek, A. (2014). Hearing and seeing meaning in speech and gesture: Insights from brain and behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 369(1651): 20130296. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0296.
AbstractAs we speak, we use not only the arbitrary form–meaning mappings of the speech channel but also motivated form–meaning correspondences, i.e. iconic gestures that accompany speech (e.g. inverted V-shaped hand wiggling across gesture space to demonstrate walking). This article reviews what we know about processing of semantic information from speech and iconic gestures in spoken languages during comprehension of such composite utterances. Several studies have shown that comprehension of iconic gestures involves brain activations known to be involved in semantic processing of speech: i.e. modulation of the electrophysiological recording component N400, which is sensitive to the ease of semantic integration of a word to previous context, and recruitment of the left-lateralized frontal–posterior temporal network (left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), medial temporal gyrus (MTG) and superior temporal gyrus/sulcus (STG/S)). Furthermore, we integrate the information coming from both channels recruiting brain areas such as left IFG, posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS)/MTG and even motor cortex. Finally, this integration is flexible: the temporal synchrony between the iconic gesture and the speech segment, as well as the perceived communicative intent of the speaker, modulate the integration process. Whether these findings are special to gestures or are shared with actions or other visual accompaniments to speech (e.g. lips) or other visual symbols such as pictures are discussed, as well as the implications for a multimodal view of language.