Shaping conversation through gesture



BH 415 and Zoom




A talk by Schuyler Laparle of University of California – Berkeley

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce the first in our invited speaker series of the 2021-22 academic year. Join us on October 14, either in-person or by Zoom, to hear a talk from Schuyler Laparle of UC Berkeley. Laparle's research is focused on co-speech gesture, metaphor, and syntax. 

In-person in BH 415




When we speak, we move. These movements of the hands, head, face, and body, are called co-speech gesture, and contribute meaning to the messages we convey through language. However, just what that meaning is and how it is integrated with the accompanying spoken message is still a subject of debate. At the most fundamental level, we are still questioning whether a gesture’s meaning is completely dependent on the accompanying speech, or whether it conveys meaning independently (Kendon 2014). In this talk I argue for the latter, which I call the Gesture Independence Hypothesis.

In my current work, I explore interactive co-speech gesture (Bavelas et al 1992), movements that relate to the social interaction and goals of the discourse, rather than the information being conveyed therein. Using video data from talk shows, I compare gestures accompanying different verbal discourse markers. These include phrases like anyway and by the way, which are used to signal different kinds of relations between utterances (e.g. Schiffren 2001). I show that the observed variation in gesture forms cannot be fully accounted for by the identity of the discourse marker itself, and that further discourse structural factors, such as turn-taking and topic-comment structure, must be considered. From this I argue that interactive gestures express a discourse’s underlying structure independently from the accompanying speech. This has implications for how co-speech gesture should be considered in linguistic research – namely as a fundamental part of the linguistic message, rather than secondary to speech. It also impacts our theories of discourse structure, which have largely considered only the spoken mode, and have thus fallen short of accounting for the complexity of real-life discourse.  


Bavelas, J. B., Chovil, N., Lawrie, D. A., & Wade, A. (1992). Interactive gestures. Discourse processes15(4), 469-489.

Kendon, A. (2014). Semiotic diversity in utterance production and the concept of ‘language’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences369: 20130293.

Schiffrin, D. (2001). Discourse markers: Language, meaning, and context. The handbook of discourse analysis1, 54-75.


AA/EO. For disability accommodation, please contact Sara Helms, 360-650-3914,