A systematic investigation of gesture kinematics in evolving manual languages in the lab

Pouw, W., Dingemanse, M., Motamedi, Y., & Ozyurek, A. (2021). A systematic investigation of gesture kinematics in evolving manual languages in the lab. Cognitive Science, 45(7): e13014. doi:10.1111/cogs.13014.
Silent gestures consist of complex multi-articulatory movements but are now primarily studied through categorical coding of the referential gesture content. The relation of categorical linguistic content with continuous kinematics is therefore poorly understood. Here, we reanalyzed the video data from a gestural evolution experiment (Motamedi, Schouwstra, Smith, Culbertson, & Kirby, 2019), which showed increases in the systematicity of gesture content over time. We applied computer vision techniques to quantify the kinematics of the original data. Our kinematic analyses demonstrated that gestures become more efficient and less complex in their kinematics over generations of learners. We further detect the systematicity of gesture form on the level of thegesture kinematic interrelations, which directly scales with the systematicity obtained on semantic coding of the gestures. Thus, from continuous kinematics alone, we can tap into linguistic aspects that were previously only approachable through categorical coding of meaning. Finally, going beyond issues of systematicity, we show how unique gesture kinematic dialects emerged over generations as isolated chains of participants gradually diverged over iterations from other chains. We, thereby, conclude that gestures can come to embody the linguistic system at the level of interrelationships between communicative tokens, which should calibrate our theories about form and linguistic content.
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