MANUACT: Ringvorlesung Mit den Händen sprechen


Alan Cienki (Moskovskij gosudarstvennij lingvisticeskij universitet und Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):

Metaphor in Gesture – How Speakers Turn Abstract Ideas into Visual Forms


We know that gestures can represent the forms of physical things that people talk about, for example, by tracing a path in the air to show how something moved, or by holding one’s thumb and forefinger to form a right angle to depict the corner of a picture frame. But what about when we talk about abstract ideas? There is a lot of evidence that we also represent abstractions as if they were physical things or motions. (See the volume Metaphor and Gesture, edited by A. Cienki and C. Müller.) Nevertheless, speakers’ spontaneous gestures are clearly not the same thing as the detailed manual movements of sign languages.

What kinds of abstract ideas are speakers depicting with gestures? We will consider two issues. One issue is that research is increasingly pointing to the high degree with which speakers (at least of many European languages) use metaphors in gesture that one rarely uses verbally in these languages, for example: by objectifying an idea as a medium-sized object or space. Such an object or space has a schematic form and a rough size, as something small enough to be handled by or between one’s relaxed hand(s), but it lacks the specificity of imagery expressed by nouns in metaphors like to have a whale of a time (when one enjoyed oneself), or a drop in the bucket (of something insignificant). A second issue to be discussed concerns verbs for manual actions (like push, pull, hold, lift). A study performed by a research master’s student at the VU (Y. Tong) using a large video corpus in English shows more schematic imagery (with more relaxed hands) in gestures with these verbs when they are used with abstract (metaphoric) senses than when they have physical meanings.

Both of the issues to be discussed suggest that the imagery depicted in metaphors in gestures is often not rich imagery, but more schematic in quality. We will consider the implications this has for theories about metaphoric thought as being based upon mental simulation.




Termin: Mittwoch, 3. Februar 2016 um 19.00 Uhr.
Ort: Vortragssaal des Staatlichen Museum für Archäologie Chemnitz, 5. Etage, Zugang über das seitliche Treppenhaus Bahnhofstraße, Ecke Brückenstraße.