Natural Media: Guest talk by Prof. Leonard Talmy

The Natural Media team is delighted to announce that Prof. Leonard Talmy will soon be visiting the Natural Media group and give a talk on “Gestures as cues to a target”.

The talk will take place on May 23, 14:00h, at HumTec (Theaterplatz 14), Room 303.

If you would like to attend the talk, please e-mail Julius Hassemer.


This talk on gestures rests on the following framework.  A speaker's attention can come to be on something -- her "target" -- near or far in the speech-external (deictic) or speech-internal (anaphoric) environment that she wants to communicate about to a hearer.  She thus needs the hearer to know what her intended target is and to have his attention on it jointly with her own at the relevant point in her discourse. Language coordinates a three-stage procedure that brings this about. In the first stage, the speaker includes in a sentence a member of a specialized set of mostly closed-class lexical forms -- "trigger forms"-- that direct the hearer's attention to certain elements of information. English trigger forms include: this/these, that/those, here, there, yonder, now, then, thus, so, such, yay, thisaway, thataway, and the personal pronouns.  In the second stage, the elements of information to which the hearer has been directed function as "cues" that, in combination, help guide him to the speaker's intended target. Such cues have so far been found to belong to ten distinct categories, representing ten different sources of information.  In the third stage, the hearer maps the concept of the target he has now determined onto the trigger form in the speaker's sentence, relating it there syntactically and semantically.

One of the ten categories of cues to a target consists of "demonstrative gestures" --  to be distinguished from general speech-accompanying gestures and "target-constituting gestures".  Every demonstrative gesture that a speaker makes is at a spatial location different from that of the target, usually with some distance between them, so means are needed to conceptually connect the two in space.  It is proposed here that, in a hearer's processing of it, a demonstrative gesture generally evokes a particular sequence of cognitive operations involving certain conceptual or "imaginal" constructs that together connect the two locations.  The main constructs for establishing such a conceptual connection are projection, repositioning, and contiguity, where the first two serve to span a spatial separation.

Demonstrative gestures further fall into six major divisions on the basis of the main method by which they or the constructs that they evoke help single out the target.  Specifically, there are target-intersecting, target-enclosing, target-coextending, target-codirectional, target-contacting, and target-affecting gestures.  All six types, in addition, can be realized anywhere along a "precision parameter" -- from an approximative to a precisional execution -- that can also help determine the target to be singled out.

About Leonard Talmy

Leonard Talmy is a Professor Emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the University at Buffalo in New York where he also headed the Center for Cognitive Science. He currently is visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, where he had received his Ph.D. in Linguistics.

He is well known for his pioneering work in cognitive linguistics, more specifically, in cognitive semantics. As his monograph "Toward a Cognitive Semantics" evidences, he approaches the question of how language organizes conceptual material in the domains space, time, motion, causation, force interaction, attention and viewpoint. In order to understand the overall conceptual and semantic structure of natural language, Talmy shows how these conceptual domains are integrated. Apart from also specialising in the study of Yiddish and Native American linguistics he has compared the representation of spatial structures in spoken and signed languages.