Item Details

Multimodality in aphasic conversation: Why gestures sometimes do not help

Issue: Vol 2 No. 2 (2011)

Journal: Journal of Interactional Research in Communication Disorders

Subject Areas: Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/jircd.v2i2.215


The use of gestures is one of the reasons for which some aphasics communicate better than
they speak. For these aphasics as well as their partners, multimodality becomes a resource
for the successful management of interaction. However, the successful employment of
gesture implies multiple practices of adaptation, since there are important differences
between gesture use in non-impaired and impaired aphasic interaction. In non-impaired faceto-
face interaction, gestures mostly accompany language and support and influence its
interpretation in various ways. Only rarely do gestures, body movements and the
manipulation of artifacts take the lead, and even more rarely do they replace language
entirely (Goodwin 1986, Heath 1982, 1992, Melinger & Levelt 2004). Under conditions of
severe non-fluent aphasia (as described here), gestures therefore are used for functions
which they cannot easily fulfill. In the absence of language, gestures become a substitute
(Goodwin 2000, 2003 and 2006a, b). This uncoupling of gestural communication from
language usually results in complex and often lengthy collaborative sequences in which the
participants set out to co-construct what the aphasic “gesturer” means, with the non-impaired
speakers providing, in a way, the missing speech for the linguistically impaired speaker (cf.
Damico et al. 2008, Goodwin 2000, 2003, 2006). As we will show, these processes of coconstruction
are encumbered not by the aphasics’ deficient gestures, but rather the semiotic
nature of gesturing itself. We will discuss examples of successful and unsuccessful gestural
communication in aphasics and suggest some reasons why gestural communication fails
sometimes, but why it helps in other cases. Our observations lend support to the idea that
therapy has to respect the semiotic characteristics of gesturing and the interactional
practices necessary for their management in order to enhance the successful employment of
the visual modality.

Author: Peter Auer, Angelika Bauer

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