McNeill Fest and Festschrift

In honor of David McNeill's retirement from teaching, his current and former students organized a Fest to celebrate his contributions to the field. Papers from the conference have been published in a Festschrift volume, available for purchase here.

Photographs of the reception, conference, and banquet.

      The reception       The conference       The banquet

The poem read by Adam Kendon: The Growth Point.

Abstracts of the talks

Janet Bavelas
University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Department of Psychology
The Social Dimension of Language and Thought

Face-to-face dialogue is the fundamental site of language use. Whether from an evolutionary, developmental, or everyday perspective, our primary or (for some) sole form of language use is ordinary face-to-face conversation. Two unique features of such conversations are (a) the use of meaningful visible acts such as gestures and (b) the presence and influence of another person. In both linguistics and psychology, both of these features have been neglected. David McNeill has made the case for the first feature; here I will extend his approach to the second. The social dimension has been treated as secondary to individual, especially cognitive, processes. Social factors and processes are often ignored or, at most, deferred --to be added on after cognitive processes are fully understood. This paper will argue that we cannot ignore social influences on language or gesture. The social context (e.g., common ground) constrains the speaker at the outset. More important, within the ongoing interaction, the moment-by-moment actions of the interlocutor shape the speaker's on-line planning and choices. Social influences are so deeply embedded in language production that their inclusion in models of language production cannot be deferred.

Geoffrey Beattie and Heather Shovelton
University of Manchester, Great Britain, Department of Psychology
An experimental investigation of the role of different types of iconic gesture in communication: a semantic feature approach

Respondents, who had either seen or not seen a sample of the iconic gestures that encoders produce when narrating a story, answered questions about the original story and it was found that the overall accuracy score for respondents who saw the iconic gestures in addition to hearing the speech was 56.8% compared to 48.6% for speech only. This was a highly reliable effect and suggests that iconic gestures are indeed communicative. Character viewpoint gestures were also significantly more communicative than observer viewpoint gestures particularly about the semantic feature relative position, but the observer viewpoint gestures were effective at communicating information, particularly about the semantic features speed and shape. There were no significant correlations between the amount of information that gestures added to speech and the amount they conveyed in its absence, which suggests that the relationship between speech and gesture is not fixed but variable. The implications of this research for our fundamental conception of iconic gestures are considered.

Starkey Duncan, Jr.
University of Chicago Psychology Department
Convention, Conflict, and Compliance in Parent-Child Interaction

Stemming from studies of early parent-child interaction, an integrated treatment of compliance, noncompliance, conflict, and related phenomena is proposed within a broader conceptual framework for describing face-to-face interaction. Basic to this framework are the notions of convention-based, or rule-governed, interaction, strategies taken within convention-based interactions, and ratification. Derived from these concepts, compliance, noncompliance, and conflict (a) are defined in terms of convention-based interaction sequences, (b) may be observed on at least two different types of interaction, and (c) are regarded as pervasive in the child's everyday interaction with others. Implications of this approach for bidirectionality, parent-child negotiation, and reciprocity theory are considered.

Susan Goldin-Meadow
University of Chicago Psychology Department
The Two Faces of Gesture

Gesture is typically produced with speech, forming a fully integrated system with the speech it accompanies. However, under unusual circumstances, gesture can be produced completely on its own - without speech. In these instances, gesture takes over the full burden of communication usually shared by the two modalities. What happens to gesture in these two very different contexts? One possibility is that there are no differences in the forms gesture takes in these two contexts - that gesture is gesture no matter what its function. But, in fact, that's not what we find. Gesture changes its form when it is produced without vs. with speech, or perhaps more accurately put, when it takes on the full burden of communication vs. when it shares the burden with speech. When gesture is produced on its own, assuming the full burden of communication, it is segmented and discrete, looking more like beads on a string than one continuous strand. Moreover, its structure becomes language-like, with ordering rules at the sentence level, paradigms at the word level, and grammatical categories. In contrast, when gesture is produced in conjunction with speech and shares the burden of communication with that speech, it assumes a global imagistic form. In this form, gesture is not only able to convey substantive information but, at times, it conveys information that is different from the information conveyed in speech (that is, it mismatches speech). Moreover, the relation between gesture and the accompanying speech appears to have cognitive significance for learning, problem-solving, and remembering. Thus, gesture's versatility allows it to be speech, or not be speech, and to alter its form and functions accordingly.

Charles Goodwin
University of California at Los Angeles
Environmentally Coupled Gestures and the Social Constitution of Professional Vision

Using as data videotapes of archaeologists excavating a prehistoric village, I will investigate how a young archaeologist gains the embodied practices required to see and define in the dirt the phenomena that are the bedrock categories of her profession (for example, the traces of the post that held up the roof of an ancient house). Central to this process are gestures that cannot be defined completely within the skin of the actor(s), but instead require as well something in the environment, here the patterning in the dirt, that is the focus of the participants' attention and action. What emerges is a hybrid action, or more accurately one built through the mutual interplay of multiple semiotic fields, including the moving hand, the dirt that the hand is articulating which also provides organization of the hand, the accompanying talk, the participation framework and positioning of the participants' bodies, the larger activity that these particular actions are embedded within, etc. Since these gestures are built through the mutual elaboration of different materials in different media (e.g., the dirt and the hand, etc.) they have a symbiotic organization in which a whole that is greater than, and different from, any single part is created. The use of such gestures within interaction is crucial to the practices of apprenticeship though which a newcomer learns how to "see" the world as a competent archaeologist (that seeing including not only vision per se, but a host of embodied practices of trowel use, etc. required to call forth from the dirt the archaeological objects that are the focus of her activity). Environmentally coupled gestures are central to the cognitive organization of archaeology and the ongoing constitution of the distinctive professional mind of the archaeologist. Simultaneously they force us to expand our sense of what counts as gesture, and the analytic frameworks required to study it.

John B. Haviland
CIESAS-Sureste, Chiapas, Mexico and Reed College, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics
Master Speakers, Master Gesturers

As part of a study of the full range of linguistic abilitieswhat should be called the real linguistic competenceof Tzotzil speakers from the Indian community of Zinacantan, in highland Chiapas, Mexico, I consider the role of gesture in the repertoire of skills that have made one man in particularan octogenarian now nearly deaf and blinda true "master speaker." Starting with his narrative virtuosity and proceeding through other interactive and ritual genres, I examine the mutual amplification between spoken and gestured aspects of Tzotzil linguistic performance.

Adam Kendon
University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education and Instituto Universitario Orientale, Naples, Italy.
The origins of modern gesture studies

This paper reviews the history of the study of gesture paying particular attention to the re-emergence of an interest in gesture beginning in the middle years of the twentieth century. In particular, it will be argued that the "cognitive turn" that took place in both the psychological and linguistic sciences paved the way for the emergence of modern gesture studies. The publication of Chomsky's review of Skinner's book and studies that purported to show that chimpanzees can acquire language in the modality of sign or gesture were among the key events in this history.

Scott Liddell and Marit Vogt-Svendsen
Gallaudet University, Department of ASL, Linguistics, and Interpretation and Universitetet I Oslo
Constructing Spatial Conceptualizations from Limited Input: Evidence from Norwegian Sign Language

Natural sign languages contain sets of signs that must be directed toward things as a normal and expected part of their production. The Norwegian Sign Language (NSL) possessive determiner POSSy, for example, meaning his, her, or its must be directed toward the possessor. If not physically present, the possessor will be conceptualized as present in the space ahead of the signer. It is crucial that the addressee form spatial conceptualizations like those of the signer, yet the information signers provide addressees to guide them in the construction of spatial conceptualizations is sometimes limited. In spite of the limited guidance in the construction of some of these spatial conceptualizations, addressees have no difficulty understanding what is being expressed. We analyze a forty-seven second description of spell checking on a computer and identify several such spatial conceptualizations utilized by the narrator. We pay particular attention to the gradient and gestural clues in addition to the lexical clues provided by the narrator. In the cases we examine, the signer's actions depend to a great extent on shared mental schemas. Evoking part of the schema as part of the spatial activity carried out by the signer is sufficient to allow the addressee to spatially conceptualize more of the schema than the signer explicitly refers to.

Michael Silverstein
University of Chicago Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics
Communication Event Roles and "Metapragmatic Extensionism: On the Cognitive Underpinnings of Predication in Grammar

The study of "split-ergative" case-marking systems (Silverstein 1976; 1981; 1993; Dixon 1979; 1994) demonstrates that the morphosyntactic signaling of predicate relations of arguments [as in the schema: f(&xi,&) 0 < i < 4] is anything but a straightforward formal "module" of autonomous-syntacticians assumptions in the face of 25 years of counterevidence.Accounting for such systems of case-marking in addition to the nominative-accusative types necessitates our theorizing a complex, asymmetrically biased set of dependencies and/or covariations with several types of grammaticosemantic and pragmatic categories. Further, it reveals across all case-marking types that what surface in languages as nominative/absolutive and dative morphosyntactic categories are, in some interesting sense, fundamental to all case-marking systems, parallel to such phenomena as phonological category foci (e.g., [a][i][u] of 3-category syllable nuclei), focal-hue red/yellow/white/black of 3-category basic color simplex lexicalizations, pastnonpast of 2-category tense systems, etc. All these results demonstrating the cognitive interpenetration of formal grammatical categorial surface forms and categories of semantic and pragmatic processing are consistent with the several lines of research that McNeill has brought to bear questioning the stronger versions of the language-autonomism theses.

Deriving from these results, the space of denotational-categorial possibilities in the realm of referring expressions (Silverstein 1987; Lucy 1992:23-84; Lee 1997:135-79) generally coded in Noun projections can be interpreted within an explanatory framework of how phenomena of the communicational event are mapped into denotational identifying descriptions (Searle 1969:79-94) that are differentially coded by the categories of Noun Phrase grammar. In this formulation, the participant roles of sender and receiver in the communicational event take on particular centrality. They not only define the basic (and universal) indexical categories of Person and demonstrative systems, they extend so-called metapragmatic interactional-event characterizing identifying descriptions as cognitive schemata underlying several "third-person," i.e., non-participant lexicogrammatical types of NP-heading categories, like "kinship"-status terms.

This work starts from the observation that metapragmatic descriptive predicators such as speech-act verbs and other verbs that [a] frame direct quotes, [b] introduce subordinate clauses of the (full or partial propositional) contents of utterance and thought,and [c] characterize illocutionary and other social-transactional events between a sender/agent and receiver/bene-(male-)factee that, remarkably, invoke the same predicational schema nominative/absolutivedative as is found in the earlier result. It is precisely such a congruence, sender : receiver :: NOM/ABS : DAT, that must both constitute the necessary cognitive condition of 2-place predicational form in the image of the structure of social role-relational inhabitance in the communicational event,and be at the basis of a number of further categorial codings, e.g., evidentiality, and formal grammatical properties of languages involving constituent ordering, case-marking, etc.

Dan Slobin and Nini Hoiting
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Psychology and Royal Institute for the Deaf, Haren, Netherlands
From gestures to signs: The emergence of language in deaf children in signing families

Early phases of the development of sign language in deaf children with signing parents (either Deaf or hearing) show similarities with the gestures of homesign children. Yet children with sign input quickly begin to incorporate gestures into polycomponential verb structures of sign language. On the basis of extensive longitudinal data of deaf children acquireing Sign Language of the Netherlands, we explore the "gesture-to-sign continuum" in the process of language development.