The semantic specificity of gesture: Implications for gesture classification and function

Uri Hadar*, Lian Pinchas-Zamir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The semantic specificity of gesture was assessed by the ability of untrained participants to recognize the meaning of ideational gestures in a forced-choice paradigm. Untrained participants selected the word that best described the meaning of a gesture clip. Clips contained one phrase of speech and one ideational gesture. Participants selected one of 5 words that they judged to best describe the meaning of the gesture, which was either iconic, or conventional or indefinite. The task was repeated in 3 conditions: gesture only, gesture plus text, and gesture plus text plus speech. Results showed that the lexical affiliate was chosen in 33%, and the irrelevant distractor in 10%, of cases. Also, the lexical affiliate was chosen in 40% of iconic gestures and 25% of indefinite gestures. The authors conclude that although the shaping of gestures is related to the conceptual and semantic aspects of the accompanying speech, gestures cannot be unambiguously interpreted by naïve listeners. The authors also conclude that the distinction between iconic and indefinite gestures is supported by the differential ability of participants to interpret them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-214
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Gesture classification
  • Gesture comprehension
  • Gesture meaning


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