Tag Archives: Kendon

Kendon’s definition of gesture

Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

From Chapter 2, “Visible action as gesture,” pp. 7-16.

Kendon begins with a very broad definition of utterance: “any ensemble of action that counts for others as an attempt by the actor to ‘give’ information of some sort” (p. 7). Kendon sees gestures as communicative, so gestures are the portion of the ensemble that occupies the visual channel. Importantly for Kendon, gestures must be communicative, not merely informative, so not all visible actions count as gesture: smiling, proxemics, practical actions, nervous movements, etc.

Gestures, are excursions of the articulators, with defined starting and stopping points, in which the movement is not merely the result of gravity acting on an articulator. Again, to Kendon, gestures are predominantly an aspect of communication, so we cannot simply define a particular movement as a gesture and claim it to be so in all contexts; instead we must consider which visible actions a listener might attend to a particular context as the visual portion of the speaker’s utterance.

Why study gestures?

Kendon, A. (1986). Some reasons for studying gesture. Semiotica, 62, 3–28. doi: 10.1515/semi.1986.62.1-2.3

Kendon provides us with a) some history on academia’s lack of focus on gestures, b) a working definition of gesture based in what listener’s are sensitive to in the visual stream of speakers, c) a brief taxonomy of gesture kinds, d) a brief tour of cross-cultural work in gesture, and e) an argument that gestures may be an important window into the psychological underpinnings of communication while warning that we should not forget that we employ gestures in communicative acts.

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