Lecture on Monday, 17 March 2014, 12:00 noon
Vrije Universiteit/VU main building, room 10A-12
Areal features in gestural depiction and their impact on sign language structure
Victoria Nyst & Tano Angoua Jean-Jacques
Leiden University
Adamorobe Sign Language (Ghana) differs in its use of iconic depiction as compared to the better studied sign languages, predominantly of European origin. One of the differences pertains to the depiction of size and shape. Whereas outlining a size and shape in space is a common and productive strategy in Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT), it is marginal in Adamorobe Sign Language (AdaSL).

A study was done to compare the frequency of size depictions in space  in six sign languages, three of West African origin and three of Western European origin. The results show that the West African sign languages pattern like AdaSL and the Western European sign languages like NGT. Contrary to the sign languages of European origin, it is highly unlikely that the West African sign languages have been in contact. A more straightforward explanation for the similarities found is that they stem from similarities in the gestural substrate from which they emerged.

A second study was done to test whether a similar dispreference for size depictions in space is found in the gestures of hearing people from the same cultural areas. Thus, data are being collected for  speakers of Dutch, Anyi (Cote d’Ivoire), Dida (Côte d’Ivoire),  Akan (Ghana) and Bambara (Mali). Preliminary analysis of the data suggests that size depiction in space is marginal in the West African languages in terms of frequency and diversity of forms, as compared to Dutch. Also, so far, all West African gesturers are found to use size and shape depictions on the body, a strategy not found in the Dutch data.

The extensive use of embodied size depictions in the West African gesture data, supports an explanation for the similarity in patterning in unrelated West African sign languages in terms of a gestural substrate.


The Amsterdam Gesture Center is pleased to announce a mini-symposium:

Interpersonal coordination

Thursday, 13 February 2014, 15:30-17:30

at the Vrije Universiteit/VU main building, room 12A-44

featuring two guest speakers from the Language, Interaction and Phenomenology Lab of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Santiago), who are currently visiting scholars in Germany:

Prof. Dr. Carlos Cornejo:

“Interpersonal coordination: From imitation to interaction”

PhD candidate Himmbler Olivares:

“The expressive dimension of interpersonal coordination: The case of remembering”

The event is open to the public. Details can be found in the abstracts and biosketches below. If anyone would like to go to dinner with the speakers after the talks or have lunch with them earlier in the afternoon (at your own expense), please let Alan Cienki know (a.cienki AT vu.nl).


Interpersonal coordination: From imitation to interaction

Carlos Cornejo

It is a well-documented fact that human beings display behavioral and gestural coordination during their interactions. The evidence on this claim is robust, covering ethnographical observation to neuroscientific evidence. In most of these approaches, interpersonal coordination is understood as imitation. However, by seeing coordination as imitation, attention is displaced from interaction itself – a phenomenon that by definition can only occur between at least two agents – to the mimicry abilities of one of them. In this study we registered the corporal movements of 15 dyads using an optical motion capture system (18 infrared cameras), with 15 markers attached to each person. This setting allowed for natural conversation and for tracking both participants’ entire bodies. Using average cross-correlation curves to aggregate coordinated motion at several time delays, we found the coordination of participants’ motion energy at three moments, which were coincident with imitation, zero-lag coordination, and reverse coordination. After these results, imitation seems to be a subset of the possible options for interpersonal coordination. Furthermore, the observed immediacy of the zero-lag coordination excludes the imitative reaction as a possible explanation. As a whole, these results suggest that individuals make permanent, unconscious efforts to configure a single coupled system during a natural interaction. Consequently, it seems more realistic to consider interpersonal coordination as an online process during the flow of a conversation, rather than as action-reaction turn-taking.

Carlos Cornejo is Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Currently he is visiting professor at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (research topic: history of psychology). His research interests include theoretical and empirical aspects of meaning construction, metaphor, and human interaction. He is director of the Language, Interaction and Phenomenology Lab (LIF) at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Email: cca AT uc.cl.  http://psicologia.uc.cl/profesores-planta-ordinaria/carlos-cornejo-alarcon.html


The expressive dimension of interpersonal coordination: The case of remembering

Himmbler Olivares

Current research demonstrates, theoretically and empirically, an interesting relationship between dyadic interpersonal coordination during conversation and subsequent personal memories about conversation in each partner (Miles, Nind, Henderson & Macrae, 2009; Tollefsen, Dale & Paxton, 2013). However, the unfolding of dyadic interpersonal coordination and its potential relations with the unfolding of personal remembering remains unclear in the literature. In this study, we investigate qualitatively the relationship between expressive aspects of interpersonal coordination and personal remembering using video-data. Two dyads of persons separately answered a protocol that includes questions about studies, professional interest and hobbies, and holidays, among other things. The protocol also included a question about the earthquake that occurred in Chile on 2010. Each interaction was recorded with video-cameras. For analysis, following the distinction between expressive and representational functions of language (Bühler, 1934/2011), we distinguish two kinds of interpersonal coordination. On the one hand, there are coordinations where expressive-affective aspects are salient, mainly an emotion. But also there is a coordination mostly based on representational aspects, for example, when coordination arises from an iconic gesture. Some examples on both categories will be presented.

In a second phase of study, we explore whether interpersonal coordination phenomena lead the remembering experience during the interaction. For this purpose, we interviewed the four participants of this study separately (and immediately) after the interaction, allowing that participants freely remember the experience related for his/her counterpart. Starting from Henri Bergson’s ideas concerning the relation between past and immediate experience (Bergson, 1913/2001, 1912/1988), we distinguish two main organization forms of remembering during the immediate experience: the subjective organization, in which remembering is guided by expressive-affective aspects; and theobjective organization of remembering, in which immediate experience is guided by reflective processes, which became visible, for example, through expressions of effort or enumerations of events.

The exploration of data shows that the subjective organization of experience during remembering is directly linked to affective-expressive coordination as deployed during the interaction. However, data does not show a direct link between objective organization of experience and representational coordination, because the objective organization of experience during remembering usually appears fused with subjective aspects. We discuss these results with focus on the tension that exists between the expressive and representational aspects of language in the stream of experience.

Himmbler Olivares is a Doctoral Student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Germany. His research interests are centered on history of psychology, with special emphasis on German holistic psychology and its relationship with the Romantic ideas of the 19th century. His doctoral dissertation focuses on the microgenesis of body movements in communicative interaction and memory. He works at the Language, Interaction and Phenomenology Lab (LiF) in the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Address: Escuela de Psicología, Vicuña Mackenna 4860, 782-0436 Santiago, Chile. Email: hgolivar AT uc.cl

Please contact Kasper for up-to-date information regarding room reservations and times.

September 18: Coding with intonation units vs. clauses, a hands on workshop. 15:30-17:30, 14A64.

October 3: A discussion on the relationship between discourse structure, event structure and gesture. 14;30-15:30, 10A35.

Also on October 3:  practice talk by Suwei Wu, “Transitivity, clause structure and the argument structure construction”. 16:00-17:00, 10A35.

October 16: A discussion on how to use elan to annotate gesture data, plus the visualization techniques you can use once you’ve exported your data. 15:30-17:30, room TBA.

November 22-23: The PhD’s at AGC will be presenting their work at a workshop hosted by the Aachen Gesture Lab.

December: A discussion on sign language and gesture.

January: A discussion on sign language and gesture, with invited guests from sign language linguistics.

Second joint workshop between the Nijmegen Gesture Center (based at the Max Planck Institute & Radboud U.) and the Amsterdam Gesture Center (based at the VU)
Thursday, 28 March 2013
VU main building, room 12A-39
11:00-11:15 Introduction: Asli Özyürek and Judith Holler (MPI)
11:15-12:00 Mingyuan Chu (MPI) “Interactions between speech and pointing gestures: An experimental study”
12:00-12:45 Kasper Kok (Dept. of Language and Communication, VU) “Gesture in a cognitive-functional grammar: Theoretical and empirical explorations”
12:45-14:00 Lunch (The Basket)
14:00-14:45 Emanuela Campisi (Center for Language Studies, Radboud U.) “Multimodal demonstrations for adults and children”
14:45-15:30 Reyhan Furman (MPI) “Language specificity in early emergence of iconic gestures: Evidence from Turkish speaking children’s spontaneous interactions”
15:30-15:45 Coffee/tea
15:45-16:30 Joep Cornelissen* and Jean Clarke** (*Dept. of Management and Organisation, VU; **Leeds U. Business School) “Gesture in entrepreneurs’ pitches to investors”
16:30-17:00 Wrap-up discussion
Dinner in Amsterdam for those who are able to go.

Joep Cornelissen (Faculty of Economics and Business Administration) will present the basic idea and materials for his next study with Jean Clarke (Leeds U.) on entrepreneurial discourse, including the role that gesture plays in this type of persuasive communication. Project title: Effective pitching: What makes entrepreneurs successful in their pitches to investors?

We have begun a weekly reading group to provide an introduction to gesture studies. Anyone interested is welcome to attend when they wish. See the link at the top of the page for more information!

Katja Abramova
PhD candidate at Radboud University, Nijmegen
Gesture and the iterated learning paradigm

I will present a study that was recently carried out by Simon Kirby, Kenny Smith, and myself at the University of Edinburgh that applies the iterated learning paradigm to the gestural modality. We attempted to replicate a grammaticalization pattern that was described in the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language from different ‘home sign’ systems: the progressive segmentation and linearization of motion event expressions in newer generations of users of the emerging sign language (Senghas, Kita and Ozyurek, 2004). The original interpretation of this pattern emphasized the role of the critical period in driving the observed change. We were interested in testing whether a similar result could be obtained in a group of adult hearing participants if they were placed in a transmission chain. If successful, it would instead point to the role of culture in this phenomenon and at the same time help generalize the iterated learning paradigm to a new modality. In addition to outlining the motivation for the study, I will describe the experimental set-up and present our preliminary results.

Workshop at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, home of the Nijmegen Gesture Center

Dynamic multimodal communication:
Work in progress by members of the Amsterdam Gesture Center

Introduction of the Amsterdam Gesture Center
– Alan Cienki, VU Amsterdam

Multimodal stancetaking in ethical discussions about the environment
– Camille Debras, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris

12:30-13:30: lunch

Multimodal quotes
– Kashmiri Stec, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Collective remembering: Coordination, collaboration and distribution in multimodal interactions
– Lucas Bietti, Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen/VU Amsterdam

15:00-15:30: break

Researching discursive features of horizontal entrepreneurship in relation to social change: Combining Critical Discourse Analysis and gesture studies
– Nicolina Montesano Montessori, Hogeschool Utrecht/VU Amsterdam, and Alan Cienki, VU Amsterdam


The AGC meets about once a month. Our next meeting takes place on October 25 at the VU. Vaclav Brezina will discuss his work on epistemic markers in spoken English and Tessa van Charldorp will present her ideas for a research project on authority to knowledge and ownership of digital technology. Both will consider the potential role that gesture analysis may play in their research. The following meeting will take place on November 12 with the Gesture Center at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen. Please write Alan Cienki or amsterdamgesturecenter AT gmail.com for more information.

At the Amsterdam Gesture Center, based at the Vrije Universiteit/VU, we study the interplay of audible and visible bodily actions in communicative settings. Spoken language is not only ‘audio’ in nature but can also have visual components – that is: it is multimodal (audio-visual) to varying degrees. While our focus is on manual gesture with speech, we also take other bodily movements into consideration, such as bodily position, eye gaze, etc. Here, you can find out who is doing research at the AGC and what we’re up to.