McNeill’s growth points

McNeill, D. (1997). Growth points cross-linguistically. In J. Nuyts & E. Pederson (Eds.) Language and conceptualization. Language, Culture, and Cognition (Vol. 1, pp. 190-212). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

McNeill takes us on a familiar trip through Kendon’s continuum and a reintroduction to his four-part classification scheme for gesticulations, slightly revised compared to other work summarized here. He then argues for the synchrony and complementarity (but not redundancy) of speech and gesture, and gesture’s potential role as a route to visual-spatial thought. He defines his concept of a growth point and how it might develop into a speech-gesture utterance, bringing along some Vygotskian dialectic for the ride.

I will focus on the McNeill’s notion of a growth-point here.

Growth points appear to be utterances in their pre-formed state. In Levelt’s model (below), I wonder if these would be the preverbal messages decending from the conceptualizer to the formalizer. It might just be that the formalizer creates both gestural and linguistic forms for ideas.


McNeill seems to be arguing that language production is almost a homeostatic process. Growth points contain incompatible representations: imagistic information and categorical linguistic information. The instability is resolved when a gesture-speech combination is executed.

Growth-points for gesture-speech combinations arise with novelty, when the important thing about a new utterance is its contrast or supplementation of presupposed background information. This interchange between established background and novel foreground is the Vygotskian dialectic.

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