The roman rhetorical tradition acknowledged the importance of gesture and made the appropriate use of gesture an important part of the 'actio' of a speech. Quintillian devoted a large portion of one of the four books of his Institutio Oratoria to a discussion of the proper use of gesture by an orator. Mainstream modern linguistic theorizing has had a condescending or downright antagonistic attitude toward gesture. Due to a Cartesian dualistic bias where body and mind are strictly separated and to a concentration on the enterprise of accounting for linguistic competence rather than linguistic performance, gesture occurring in connection with spoken language has generally been ignored as irrelevant.
This situation is however changing. Linguists are coming together with communication scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, and others to study the actual use of spoken language in a variety of everyday situational contexts. In this regard I would refer the reader to the excellent work being done by Charles and Marjorie Goodwin on the analysis of video recordings of language use in natural settings (cf. Goodwin & Goodwin 1992). Recent psychoIinguistic research shows that speech and gesture are probably neurophysiologically related (cf. McNeill 1992 and Feyereisen & de Lannoy1991).
Most studies of the integration of gesture and speech have been 'syntactically' oriented, Le. determining the temporal order of occurrence of the gesture and the corresponding speech segments. Usually as a effort to investigate the process of speech production in relation to thought (cf. Feyereisen & de Lannoy 1991). McNeiIl (1992) has however started to move in a more semantic direction and has studied the use of illustrative and metaphoric 'imagistic' gestures in connection with speech.
In contrast to Decartes, C.S. Peirce realized that knowledge or cognition has three basic semiotic dimensions; iconic, indexical, and symbolic. Peirce claimed that these three dimensions of cognition were grounded in intuitions of similarity, causality, contiguity in space-time and part-whole, and arbitrary conventional connections between objects (abstract or concrete) of attention. In a Peircian semiotics the iconic and indexical dimensions of signs are primarily non-verbal, the symbolic dimension is primarily verbal.
The question to be addressed in this paper is how the non-vocal, non-verbal aspects of gestures are related to the vocal, verbal aspects of spoken language (speech). The relationship that will be explored and discussed is a semantic one. To this end I have turned to Arne Naess's (1953) Theory of Interpretation and Preciseness for inspiration. Naess's theory is meant to be a tool for semantic analysis of communicative language use either spoken or written. I am going to generalize Naess's semantic insights in a semiotic direction to cover both gesture and speech.
Göteborg: Department of Linguistics/Dept. of German ad Dutch, University of Göteborg , 1996. 14-30 p.
Indexicality: Papers from the Symposium “Indexikalia Tecken”, University of Göteborg, November 1995