Some thoughts on communication, gestures, and the language system

Thomas Gunter - Max Plank Institut for Human, Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Some thoughts on communication, gestures, and the language system

Thomas C. Gunter

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Gestures are an integral part of human face-to-face communication. Just look around, and whenever you see people interact, they also gesture. Although the question whether gestures actually contain useful information is obsolete, it is still important to try to understand what kind of information they transfer, for what purpose, when are they most effective, and how gesture information is integrated in the system we call language.

In this talk, I will illustrate several of these issues with experimental evidence we accumulated in the last years. I will for instance show that seemingly unimportant flicks of the hand called ‘beats’ can have impact on the structural aspect language processing (i.e. syntax) and make suggestions how this information is fed into the language system. Additionally I will look more closely on how our most basic communicative means called ‘pointing’ can impact language processing and elaborate in this context a bit on the use of gesture space.

At the end of the talk, I will try to detail the question to what extent gestures are used during communication and under which premises these communicative signals are prioritized to facilitate it.  As we will see, our experimental evidence suggests that a general prioritization-mechanism is in use that constantly monitors and evaluates the use of communicative cues against communicative priors on the basis of accumulated error information.

If you would like to meet the speaker, please contact Axel Mecklinger.