Volume 16, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes
  • Pragmatic functions of gestures

    Some observations on the history of their study and their nature

  • Author(s): Adam Kendon 1
  • View Affiliations Hide Affiliations
    1 University College London and University of Cambridge
  • Source: Gesture, Volume 16, Issue 2, Jan 2017, p. 157 - 175
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.16.2.01ken
    • Version of Record published : 12 Jan 2018


In the eighteenth century and before, gesture was considered from the point of view of how it should be used in oratory, as a part of the art of engaging in persuasive discourse. This contrasts with the interest pursued in modern gesture studies where, for the most part, the hand movements that people make when they speak have been studied as representations of the substantive or propositional content of the utterance, seen as providing clues about the mental or cognitive processes governing speaking. Speaking is also a form of social action, however, and gestures play an important role in this. An historical perspective on the study of gesture from a pragmatic point of view is provided, followed by a summary of the main features of the pragmatic functioning of gesture.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Austin, Gilbert
    (1966) Chironomia, or a treatise on rhetorical delivery. Edited by Mary Margaret Robb & Lester Thonssen . Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press (originally published 1806, London: Bulmer).
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Austin, John L.
    (1962) How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Bavelas, Janet Beavin , Nicole Chovil , Douglas A. Lawrie , & Allan Wade
    (1992) Interactive gestures. Discourse Processes, 15, 469–489. doi: 10.1080/01638539209544823
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01638539209544823 [Google Scholar]
  4. Birdwhistell, Ray L.
    (1970) Kinesics and context: Essays in body motion communication. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Condon, William S. & Richard D. Ogston
    (1966), Sound film analysis of normal and pathological behavior patterns, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 143, 338–347. doi: 10.1097/00005053‑196610000‑00005
    https://doi.org/10.1097/00005053-196610000-00005 [Google Scholar]
  6. (1967) A segmentation of behavior, Journal of Psychiatric Research, 5, 221–235. doi: 10.1016/0022‑3956(67)90004‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-3956(67)90004-0 [Google Scholar]
  7. Conley, Thomas M.
    (1990) Rhetoric in the European tradition. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Dutsch, Dorata
    (2002) Towards a grammar of gesture: A comparison between the type of hand movements of the orator and the actor in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria 11.3.85–184. Gesture, 2, 259–281. doi: 10.1075/gest.2.2.07dut
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.2.2.07dut [Google Scholar]
  9. Efron, David
    (1941) Gesture and environment. New York: King’s Crown Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. (1972) Gesture, race, and culture: A tentative study of some of the spatio-temporal and “linguistic” aspects of gestural behavior of Eastern Jews and Southern Italians in New York City, living under similar as well as different environmental conditions. The Hague: Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Ekman, Paul & Wallace Friesen
    (1969) The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage and coding. Semiotica, 1, 49–98. doi: 10.1515/semi.1969.1.1.49
    https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.1969.1.1.49 [Google Scholar]
  12. Freedman, Norbert
    (1977) Hands, words and mind: On the structuralization of body movements during discourse and the capacity for verbal representation. In Norbert Freedman & Stanley Grand (Eds.), Communicative structures and psychic structures: A psychoanalytic approach (pp.109–132). New York & London: Plenum Press. doi: 10.1007/978‑1‑4757‑0492‑1_6
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-0492-1_6 [Google Scholar]
  13. Freud, Sigmund
    (1954) The psychopathology of everyday life. Translated by A. A. Brill . London: Ernest Benn Limited.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Harrison, Simon
    (2010) Evidence for node and scope of negation in co-verbal gesture, Gesture, 10 (1), 29–51. doi: 10.1075/gest.10.1.03har
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.10.1.03har [Google Scholar]
  15. Kendon, Adam
    (1972a) Some relationships between body motion and speech. An analysis of an example. In Aaron Siegman & Benjamin Pope (Eds.), Studies in dyadic communication (pp.177–210). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press. doi: 10.1016/B978‑0‑08‑015867‑9.50013‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-015867-9.50013-7 [Google Scholar]
  16. (1972b) A review of ‘Kinesics and context’ by R. L. Birdwhistell. American Journal of Psychology, 85, 441–455. doi: 10.2307/1420845
    https://doi.org/10.2307/1420845 [Google Scholar]
  17. (1980) Gesticulation and speech: Two aspects of the process of utterance. In Mary Ritchie Key (Ed.), Nonverbal communication and language (pp.207–227). The Hague: Mouton and Co.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. (1995) Gestures as illocutionary and discourse structure markers in Southern Italian conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 23, 247–279. doi: 10.1016/0378‑2166(94)00037‑F
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(94)00037-F [Google Scholar]
  19. (2002) Some uses of the head shake. Gesture, 2 (2), 147–182. doi: 10.1075/gest.2.2.03ken
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.2.2.03ken [Google Scholar]
  20. (2004) Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511807572
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511807572 [Google Scholar]
  21. Kendon, Adam & Stuart J. Sigman
    (1996) Ray L. Birdwhistell (1918–1994), Semiotica, 112 (3/4), 231–61.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Kendon, Adam & Laura Versante
    (2003) Pointing by hand in ‘Neapolitan’. In Sotaro Kita , (Ed.), Pointing: Where language, culture and cognition meet (pp.109–137). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Knowlson, James R.
    (1965) The idea of gesture as a universal language in the 17th and 18th centuries. Journal of the History of Ideas, 26, 495–508. doi: 10.2307/2708496
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2708496 [Google Scholar]
  24. Leeds-Hurwitz, Wendy
    (1987) The social history of the Natural history of an interview: a multidisciplinary investigation of social communication. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 20, 1–51. doi: 10.1080/08351818709389274
    https://doi.org/10.1080/08351818709389274 [Google Scholar]
  25. Lempert, Michael
    (2011) Barak Obama, being sharp: Indexical order in the pragmatics of precision-grip gesture. Gesture, 11, 241–270. doi: 10.1075/gest.11.3.01lem
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.11.3.01lem [Google Scholar]
  26. McNeill, David
    (1979) The conceptual basis of language. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. (1985) So you think gestures are nonverbal?Psychological Review, 92, 350–371. doi: 10.1037/0033‑295X.92.3.350
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.92.3.350 [Google Scholar]
  28. (1992) Hand and mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Müller, Cornelia
    (2004) Forms and uses of the Palm Up Open Hand: A case of a gesture family?In Cornelia Müller & Roland Posner (Eds.), The semantics and pragmatics of everyday gestures (pp.233–256). Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Nerlich, Brigitte & David D. Clarke
    (1996) Language, action and context: The early history of pragmatics in Europe and America, 1780–1930. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/sihols.80
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sihols.80 [Google Scholar]
  31. Neumann, Ragnhild
    (2004) The conventionalization of the Ring Gesture in German discourse. In Cornelia Müller & Roland Posner (Eds.), The semantics and pragmatics of everyday gestures (pp.217–224). Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Quintilianus, Marcus Fabius
    (1922) The Instituto Oratoria. With an English translation by H. E. Butler (VolumeIV). London & New York: William Heinemann & G. P. Putnam’s and Sons.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Rée, Jonathan
    (1999) I see a voice. New York: Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Co.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Rosenfeld, Sophia
    (2001) A revolution in language: The problem of signs in late eighteenth century France. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Searle, John
    (1969) Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781139173438
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139173438 [Google Scholar]
  36. Seyfeddinipur, Mandana
    (2004) Meta-discursive gestures from Iran: Some uses of the ‘Pistol Hand’. In Cornelia Müller & Roland Posner (Eds.), The semantics and pragmatics of everyday gestures (pp.205–216). Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Streeck, Jürgen
    (2009) Gesturecraft: The manu-facturing of meaning. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/gs.2
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gs.2 [Google Scholar]
  38. Streeck, Jürgen & Ulrike Hartege
    (1992) Previews: Gestures at the transition place. In Peter Auer & Aldo di Luzio (Eds.), The contextualization of language (pp.135–157). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/pbns.22.10str
    https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.22.10str [Google Scholar]
  39. Webb, Rebecca
    (1996) Linguistic features of metaphoric gestures. Doctoral dissertation. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester.
  40. (1998), The lexicon and componentiality of American metaphoric gestures. In Serge Santi (Ed.), Oralité et gestualité: communication multimodale, interaction (pp.387–391). Paris: L’Harmattan.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. West, La Mont, Jr.
    (1960) The sign language: An analysis (2volumes). PhD dissertation. Bloominton, IN: Indiana University.
  42. Wundt, Wilhelm
    (1973), The language of gestures. Edited by Thomas A. Sebeok , translated by J. S. Thayer , C. M. Greenleaf , and M. D. Silberman . The Hague: Mouton (Translation of Wilhelm Wundt (1921) Chapter 2 of Volume 1, Part 1 ofVölkerpsychologie: Eine Untersuchung der Entwicklungsgesetze von Sprache, Mythus und Sitte.Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag). doi: 10.1515/9783110808285
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110808285 [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): communication; discourse; gesture; oratory; pragmatics; rhetoric
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error