Iconic and representational gestures

Irene Mittelberg, Vito Evola

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The construct of iconic gestures, those gestures understood as sharing certain form features with the object, action or scene they represent, has traditionally proven to be a useful tool for scholars to classify this subset of gestures, distinguishing them from other types such as indexical or emblematic gestures. More recent approaches prefer to avoid discrete categories and rather speak in terms of dimensions or principles, such as iconicity or indexicality, in order to highlight the fact that gestures tend to perform multiple functions at once. Iconic co-speech gestures are semiotically conditioned not only by the particular language spoken, but also by the pragmatics of situated, multimodal language use, thus being cognitively, intersubjectively and socio-culturally motivated. Iconic patterns of gesture production identified within individual as well as across various languages and language families have provided valuable insights into the intimate interrelation of thought, gesture and speech in face-to-face interaction as well as other kinds of multimodal communication. This chapter reviews both production- and comprehension-oriented research on iconic gestures, including examples from cross-cultural, clinical, and forensic studies. Ways in which iconic gestures pertain to related terms, such as representational and referential gestures, are also addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBody - Language - Communication
Subtitle of host publicationAn International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Intercation
EditorsCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David MicNeill, Jana Bressem
PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-11-030202-8
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameHandbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science
PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
ISSN (Print)1861-5090


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