Speaker: Kathryn Davidson (Harvard)
Title: The pragmatics of depiction: An experimental investigation
Abstract: Descriptive verbal content is known to be governed by pragmatic principles that expect increased informativity for increased effort, while depictive content remains largely an unexplored pragmatic domain, despite a recent surge of interest in the compositional semantics of depictive content (signed, spoken, and gestured). In this talk I’ll focus on one type of depictive content (English co-speech gestures) in a series of three experimental studies. I will first provide some empirical evidence against a purely supplemental analysis of co-speech gestures, and then a more nuanced empirical picture than is currently predicted by any existing theories. Across the three studies we dissociate triviality from informativity, and in doing so highlight a new distinction relevant to predicting depictive co-speech gesture acceptability, contrasting gestural content that modifies along the same dimension as verbal content versus those that provide a new dimension of modification. The goal of this work is to provide some first empirical steps toward understanding the wide variability in acceptability of co-speech depictive gestures, with a further goal of more generally understanding how depiction (in sign, speech, and gesture) is integrated within a pragmatic system. I will end with connections to the pragmatics of gesture in sign languages and the linguistics structure of bimodal bilingualism.