From Gesture to Speech

Maurizio Gentilucci, Elisa De Stefani, Alessandro Innocenti

Abstract


One of the major problems concerning the evolution of human language is to understand how sounds became associated to meaningful gestures. It has been proposed that the circuit controlling gestures and speech evolved from a circuit involved in the control of arm and mouth movements related to ingestion. This circuit contributed to the evolution of spoken language, moving from a system of communication based on arm gestures. The discovery of the mirror neurons has provided strong support for the gestural theory of speech origin because they offer a natural substrate for the embodiment of language and create a direct link between sender and receiver of a message. Behavioural studies indicate that manual gestures are linked to mouth movements used for syllable emission. Grasping with the hand selectively affected movement of inner or outer parts of the mouth according to syllable pronunciation and hand postures, in addition to hand actions, influenced the control of mouth grasp and vocalization. Gestures and words are also related to each other. It was found that when producing communicative gestures (emblems) the intention to interact directly with a conspecific was transferred from gestures to words, inducing modification in voice parameters. Transfer effects of the meaning of representational gestures were found on both vocalizations and meaningful words. It has been concluded that the results of our studies suggest the existence of a system relating gesture to vocalization which was precursor of a more general system reciprocally relating gesture to word.

Keywords


Broca’s area; gesture; human kinematics; mirror neurons; voice spectra; word

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