Markers of communicative intent through ostensive signals and their effectiveness in multimodal demonstrations to adults and children

Slonimska, A., Ozyurek, A., & Campisi, E. (2016). Markers of communicative intent through ostensive signals and their effectiveness in multimodal demonstrations to adults and children. Talk presented at the 7th Conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies (ISGS7). Paris, France. 2016-07-18 - 2016-07-22.
In face-to-face interaction people adapt their multimodal message to fit their addressees’ informational needs. In doing so they are likely to mark their communicative intent by accentuating the relevant information provided by both speech and gesture. In the present study we were interested in the strategies by which speakers highlight their gestures (by means of ostensive signals like eye gaze and/or ostensive speech) for children in comparison to adults in a multimodal demonstration task. Moreover, we investigated the effectiveness of the ostensive signals to gestures and asked whether addressees shift their attention to the gestures highlighted by the speakers through different ostensive signals. Previous research has identified some of these ostensive signals (Streeck 1993; Gullberg & Kita 2009), but have not investigated how often they occur and whether they are designed for and attended to by different types of addressees. 48 Italians, born and raised in Sicily, participated in the study. 16 chosen Italian adult participants (12 female, 7 male, age range 20-30) were assigned the role of the speakers, while other 16 adults and 16 children (age range 9-10) had a role of the addressees. The task of the speaker was to describe the rules of a children’s game, which consists of using wooden blocks of different shapes to make a path without gaps. Speakers’ descriptions were coded for words and representational gestures, as well as for three types of ostensive signals highlighting the gestures – 1) eye gaze, 2) ostensive speech and 3) combination of eye gaze and ostensive speech to gesture. Addressees’ eye gaze to speakers’ gestures were coded and annotated whether eye gaze was directed to highlighted or not highlighted gesture. Overall eye gaze was the most common signal followed by ostensive speech and multimodal signals. We found that speakers were likely to highlight more gestures with children than with adults when all three types of signals were considered together. However, when treated separately, results revealed that speakers used more combined ostensive signals for children than for adults, but they were also likely to use more eye gaze towards their gestures with other adults than with children. Furthermore, both groups of addressees gazed more at gestures highlighted by the speakers in comparison to gestures that were not highlighted at all. The present study provides the first quantitative insights in regard to how speakers highlight their gestures and whether the age of the addressee influences the effectiveness of the ostensive signals. Speakers mark the communicative relevance of their gestures with different types of ostensive signals and by taking different types of addressees into account. In turn, addressees - not only adults but also children – take advantage of the provided signals to these gestures
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