Constructing Meaning in Discourse: ERP Studies of Iconic Co-Speech Gesture Comprehension

Posted: 4 Nov 2008

See all articles by Seana Coulson

Seana Coulson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: October 20, 2008


Traditional models of language comprehension as a decoding process are argued to involve an over-attribution of the import of linguistic information, and an overly narrow view of the role of background and contextual knowledge. In contrast, the space structuring model accords background and contextual knowledge a central role in the construction of meaning. Inspired by work in cognitive semantics, the space structuring model holds that meaning is actively constructed by language users in response to their communicative goals. Linguistic information then does not convey meaning, but rather triggers various processes of meaning construction, such as the activation of frames, the establishment of mappings, and the integration or blending of information from different domains. In keeping with the usage-based emphasis in cognitive linguistics, the talk will focus on processes underlying the comprehension of iconic, co-speech gestures in discourse. Iconic co-speech gestures are spontaneous body movements produced in coordination with speaking, and that convey visuo-spatial information about the topic of discourse. For example, a speaker might trace an oval in the air as he says the word platter. The way in which these gestures influence understanding in discourse, and indeed, whether listeners process them semantically at all has been a matter of some contention. The space structuring model suggests that iconic gestures prompt meaning construction processes similar to those invoked by other sorts of background and local contextual information. I will suggest that speakers utilize conceptual blending processes to combine linguistic information with visual-spatial and motoric information made available through gestures, and describe a series of event-related brain potential (ERP) studies that support these claims.

Keywords: ERP, conceptual integration, blending, co-speech gesture, discourse, iconic

Suggested Citation

Coulson, Seana, Constructing Meaning in Discourse: ERP Studies of Iconic Co-Speech Gesture Comprehension (October 20, 2008). 9th Conference on Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language (CSDL9), Available at SSRN:

Seana Coulson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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