The Pragmatic Status of Iconic Meaning in Spoken Communication: Gestures, Ideophones, Prosodic Modulations (PSIMS)

While the lexical items of human spoken languages are to a large part conventionalized and hence to a large extent non-iconic, there are pockets of iconicity in human communication. We will investigate three kinds of iconicity: speech-accompanying manual gestures, ideophones such as “helter-skelter”, and prosodic modulations as in “boooring”. The central research question is the pragmatic status of such iconic meanings: Do they contribute to what is said (i.e., are they at-issue), and under which conditions can they become at-issue? If they are not at-issue, are they a type of conventional implicature, or rather a type of presupposition? Existing proposals for iconic gestures as co-suppositions or as supplements similar to appositive relative clauses, will be tested experimentally for gestures and for the other two types of iconic meaning. We will investigate the precise alignment of iconic manual gestures and the oral speech expressions that they affect, how gestures are connected with ideophones and prosodic modulations, and the way components of iconic meaning contribute to the overall meaning, e.g., whether they project under semantic operators, or whether and how they can be addressed directly in communication. We will investigate the multimodal aspects of communication by means of existing corpora, production experiments with synchronized acoustic, video and motion capture data as well as audiovisual perception experiments and behavioral measures of cognitive processing (reaction times). The goal is to gain a better understanding of the often-neglected iconic aspects of meaning in human communication, and the interplay of various types of meanings.

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