Framing Language Through Gesture
: Palm-Up, Index Finger-Extended Gestures, and Holds in spoken and signed interactions in French-speaking and signing Belgium

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Languages, Letters and Translation


This dissertation explores the gesture-sign relationship by investigating interactional aspects of specific gestural forms in the spontaneous dyadic face-to-face conversations of four older signers and eight older speakers in the southern part of Belgium, comparing French Belgian Sign Language (LSFB) and spoken French (Belgian variety, BF).
Moving beyond the scope of traditional treatments of gesture in spoken (SpLs) and signed languages (SLs) in favor of a comparative study of kinesic expression in sign and in gesture (Kendon, 2008), this research has conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses of specific embodied strategies in discourse, namely, the Palm-Up (PU), the Index Finger-Extended Gesture (IFE-G), holds, and their concurrent gaze directions, and compare their usage in signed and spoken conversations. With a pragmatic perspective of language and adopting methodologies of corpus-based approaches to language data, this project highlights the different strategies and choices that signers and speakers perform using these gestural markers depending on contextual and interactional demands, allowing the interpersonal relationships with addressees to be regulated and to attend to the contingencies of the unfolding talk itself.
The results unveiled a number of intra- and inter-linguistic differences for the frequencies as well as similarities as for the interactive functions of the different gestural markers under study. PU frequencies did not show any clear-cut distinction between LSFB signers and BF speakers under study while IFE-Gs did establish a distinction. This can be explained by the conventionalized nature that is more attested in SLs than in SpLs. Nevertheless, when analyzed for their respective interactive functions in spoken and signed discourses, both forms carried similar roles. Signers mainly used the PU and the IFE-G for turn-taking regulating purposes (including feedback expressions) whereas speakers preferred them to manipulate the content of the information conveyed on the palm of their hands and the tip of their index finger (for delivery and common ground purposes). Moreover, reduced forms of PUs and IFE-Gs were attested in the data, signaling particular interactional moves from language users. As far as manual holds were concerned, the findings presented evidence that they were not mere insignificant moments of gestural and signing excursions. Rather, they worked as efficient and effective tools employed by hearing and deaf participants to achieve a number of pragmatic goals during the course of their conversations.
Rather than opposing gesture and sign from the beginning, this study has shown that interactants, whether deaf or hearing, make choices in dialogic situations and continuously deploy bodily behaviors that correspond to their (and their addressees’) needs as the conversation evolves. The current gestural items under study constitute one of such bodily behaviors that are produced in ways that are sensitive to the interactional and linguistic contexts.
This study has revealed how considering gesture in SpL on a par with SL, favoring commonalities between gesture and sign rather than exacerbating differences, reinforced the argument for gesture to be part of linguistic activities, and as to what it means for spoken and signed languages to be gestural languages.
Date of Award1 Oct 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SponsorsFonds de la Recherche Scientifique F.R.S.-FNRS
SupervisorLaurence Meurant (Supervisor), Catherine T. Bolly (Co-Supervisor), David Vrydaghs (President), Lindsay N. Ferrara (Jury), Mieke Van Herreweghe (Jury) & Sílvia Gabarró-López (Jury)


  • Gesture
  • Sign Language
  • Interaction
  • Multimodal Corpora

Attachment to an Research Institute in UNAMUR


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