Non-referential gestures in adult and child speech: Are they prosodic?

Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, Ada Ren, Mili Mathew, Ivan Yuen, Katherine Demuth

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    The manual gestures that accompany speaking have been analysed in terms of their form, their meaning, their role in the communicative act, and their timing with respect to the speech they accompany. Several schemes for categorizing these cospeech movements have been proposed, e.g. McNeill’s (1992) iconic, metaphoric, deictic and beat gestures, and Kendon’s (1994) distinction between substantive and pragmatic gestures. Among McNeill's gesture categories, beats are described as non-referential: simple flicks of the hand or finger, often performed repetitively and in rhythm, and lacking the complex phasing structure of other gesture types. For referential gestures, this complex phasing can include (in addition to the core stroke phase) preparation, pre- or post-stroke hold and recovery (Kendon 1980). Studies of adult speech show that many gestures are timed to overlap with phrase-level prosodic accents (Loehr 2004, Yasinnik et al. 2004); in at least one corpus of academic-lecture speech (Shattuck-Hufnagel et al. in prep.) these gestures are largely non-referential, like beats. We present evidence that this type of non-referential gesture can also have complex phasal structure in adults, and that children as young as 6 have such gestures in their repertoire, although less skillfully produced. Potential relations between prosody and gesture are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publication Proceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody
    Place of PublicationBaixas
    PublisherInternational Speech Communication Association (ISCA)
    Number of pages4
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    Event8th Speech Prosody - Boston University, Boston, United States
    Duration: 31 May 20163 Jun 2016


    Conference8th Speech Prosody
    Abbreviated titleSP2016
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    Internet address


    • Co-speech gesture
    • Discourse structure
    • Gesture types
    • Gesture-speech alignment
    • Prosody


    Dive into the research topics of 'Non-referential gestures in adult and child speech: Are they prosodic?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this