GESTURES –voluntary or involuntary movements of a human body or its part that are usually performed simultaneously with the speech or serve as its substitute. In most cases, G. possess a certain meaning and show the speaker’s communicative intention. According to some linguists, only significant hand movements that directly contribute to communication and make the speech more expressive can be qualified as G.

In multimodal communication (which means that people simultaneously use several channels to transmit and receive information) the role of G. is extremely important. Speech and G. act as parts of an integral multimodal system, and their interaction contributes to a fuller understanding of the process of communication.

Numerous works of Russian and foreign linguists are dedicated to G. R. Jakobson states that oral communication is primal, and gestures can only add a certain meaning in appropriate circumstances [Jakobson 1972]. According to A. Kendon, speech and gestures represent an indivisible unit, and G. complement the verbal part of the utterance, making it more expressive and thus helping the speaker to fulfill a particular communicative intention [Kendon 2004]. C. Müller says that G., being a certain combination of hand movements and representing visual information, help create a combination of knowledge and experience on a conceptual level [Müller 2013].

As far as various G. classifications are concerned, scholars consider different G. characteristics to be the most important ones, which prevents the appearance of a typology that would be generally accepted. G. can be classified according to their function in the process of communication, their correlation with the speech, their orientation in space, etc. One of the most widespread G. classifications was introduced by P. Ekman and W. Friesen [Ekman, Friesen 1969]; it is partially based on D. Efron’s typology [Efron 1941/1972] and highlights four G. types:

1) “Emblems” possess a certain lexical meaning and can be easily understood by all representatives of a given group (class, society). They often replace a certain word or phrase that would otherwise be expressed with the help of verbal means. A particular hand movement used when greeting or saying goodbye to a person, shrugging one’s shoulders or showing a “thumb up” (a sign of approval in most countries) belong to this gesture type;

2) “Regulators” support and guide the communication between interactants. These G. serve as a certain hint at the continuation of the utterance; they can also express a demand to repeat what has been said or to give the floor to another speaker. Among the most popular G. of this type are a handshake, a head nod (a sign of agreement in most countries), eyebrow raising (shows surprise) or a slight body movement towards the interlocutor during a conversation;

3) “Illustrators” help describe what is being said, in other words, they serve as visual “illustration” of the utterance. They can repeat or substitute particular sentences or phrases, contradict the given information or intensify the meaning of the utterance, if the speaker wants to emphasize it. “Illustrators” appear with the speech, and do not have any common standard form.

4) G. belonging to “adaptors” do not contribute to the communication directly, and can serve as a certain psychological characteristic of a person. Fixing one’s hair, touching the interlocutor, holding and touching small objects in one’ hands can be qualified as “adaptors”. This G. type is closely related to the speaker’s emotional state, helping him adjust to a particular situation and feel more comfortable. Such G. are spontaneous and are not perceived by the speaker on a conscious level.

There also exist other G. typologies. For instance, D. McNeill distinguishes between iconic G. (having a direct connection with the referent, resembling the object described) and metaphoric G. (used to express abstract notions) [McNeill 1992/1995]. E. Grishina examines and pays special attention to single and recurrent G., as well as to brief (equal to one word) and prolonged G. (lasting more than one accentuated word) [Гришина 2014].

As far as G. functions are concerned, one of the most significant ones is the communicative function. According to G. Kreydlin, G. can also perform the regulative function, controlling the interactants’ verbal behavior, as well as the representational function (showing the psychological state of the speaker and his attitude towards the interlocutor). The deictic function of G., serving to describe certain objects is also of great significance [Kreydlin 2002].


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Ekman P., Friesen W.V. The Repertoire of nonverbal behavior: categories, origins, usage, and coding. – Semiotica 1 (1), 1969.

Kendon A. Gesture: Visible action as utterance. – Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

McNeill D. Hand and Mind: What gestures reveal about thought. – Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992/1995.

Müller C. Gestural modes of representation as techniques of depiction // Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction. Volume 2. / Ed. Müller C., Cienki A., Frickle E., Ladewig S., McNeill D., Bressem J. – Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2013. – P. 1687–1702.

A. Shuvaeva