The intelligibility of gesture within a framework of co-operative action

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Gesture-first theories of language propose the transparent intelligibility of deictic and iconic gestures. The gestures of a man with a three-word vocabulary are used to investigate gesture without accompanying language. Rather than being transparent, the rich intrinsic meaningfulness of deictic and iconic gestures produces a surplus of possible referents. The task of working out their meaning delays movement to subsequent action, and thus creates selective pressure for the emergence of arbitrary, rather than inherently meaningful, signs. Analysis then turns to Kendon’s argument that meaning and action are accomplished through the way in which talk, gesture, and phenomena in the environment mutually elaborate each other, with the semiotic possibilities of each of these resources mutually constraining the others.


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