Non-visible Gesturing in Telephone Conversation

Jared Desjardins


In this paper, the use of non-visible gestures in naturally occurring telephone conversations is compared with visible gestures in face-to-face conversations in order to better understand the relationship between language and gesture, and what non-visible gesturing on the telephone says about that relationship. Although much research has been done on spontaneously occurring gestures in face-to-face conversation (Schegloff 1984, McNeill 1992, Kendon & Versante 2003), non-visible gesturing has not received the same attention, and the investigation it has received utilized unnatural research environments (e.g., Rimé 1982). This research addresses the following questions: 1) In which conversational topics do gestures tend to occur in comparison to others?, 2) How do gestures used on the telephone differ from gestures in face-to-face interaction?, and 3) If a majority of a specific type of gesture occurs in telephone versus face-to-face conversation, what does that say about the function of gesture for the speaker and/or hearer, and the relationship between language and gesture? The methodology employed in this study is as follows: 1) video and audio record three groups of two participants in one natural telephone and one natural face-to-face conversation each, 2) create time-coded topic indices and note the type and function of gestures used in each topic, 3) calculate the total number of gestures and gesture types used in each conversation, 4) transcribe verbal utterances together with each gesture in topic sections that have a high occurrence of gestures, and 5) compare the context and conversational development where each gesture is used in the telephone conversations with those in the face-to-face conversations. Results suggest that more topic and word-search gestures occur in topics concerning recall and storytelling in both telephone and face-to-face conversations. More of all gesture types are used in face-to-face conversation than in telephone conversations, and in telephone conversations more interactive and word-search gestures are used than topic gestures. Results suggest that the higher frequency of word-search gestures in telephone conversations is related to the lack of hearer input, specifically, the speaker compensates by resorting to (higher numbers of) gestures in moments of recall in word searches and storytelling. This research contributes to prior studies on visible and non-visible gesturing by suggesting that non-visible gesturing is not a mere habit carried over from face-to-face conversation, and may have applications in communication studies and childhood learning and cognition (Broaders and Goldin-Meadow 2010, Goldin-Meadow 1999, 2005; Iverson 2005).


Linguistics; Gesture; Conversation

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