AbstractEmbodied image schemas are central to experientialist accounts of meaning-making. Research from several disciplines has evidenced their pervasiveness in motivating form and meaning in both literal and figurative expressions across diverse semiotic systems and art forms (e.g., Gibbs and Colston; Hampe; Johnson; Lakoff; and Mandler). This paper aims to highlight structural similarities between, on the one hand, dynamic image schemas and force schemas and, on the other, hand shapes and gestural movements. Such flexible correspondences between conceptual and gestural schematicity are assumed to partly stem from experiential bases shared by incrementally internalized conceptual structures and the repeated gestural (re-) enacting of bodily actions as well as more abstract semantic primitives (Lakoff). Gestures typically consist of evanescent, metonymically reduced hand configurations, motion onsets, or movement traces that minimally suggest, for instance, a PATH, the idea of CONTAINMENT, an IN-OUT spatial relation, or the momentary loss of emotional BALANCE. So, while physical in nature, gestures often emerge as rather schematic gestalts that, as such, have the capacity to vividly convey essential semantic and pragmatic aspects of high relevance to the speaker. It is further argued that gesturally instantiated image schemas and force dynamics are inherently meaningful structures that typically underlie more complex semantic and pragmatic processes involving, for instance, metonymy, metaphor, and frames. First, I discuss previous work on how image schemas, force gestalts, and mimetic schemas may underpin hand gestures and body postures. Drawing on Gibbs’ dynamic systems account of image schemas, I then introduce an array of tendencies in gestural image schema enactments: body-inherent/self-oriented (body as image-schematic structure; forces acting upon the body); environment-oriented (material culture including spatial structures), and interlocutor-oriented (intersubjective understanding). Adopting a dynamic systems perspective (e.g.,Thompson and Varela) thus puts the focus on how image schemas and force gestalts that operate in gesture may function as cognitive-semiotic organizing principles that underpin a) the physical and cognitive self-regulation of speakers; b) how they interact with the (virtual) environment while talking; and c) intersubjective instances of resonance and understanding between interlocutors or between an artwork and its beholder. Examples of these patterns are enriched by video and motion-capture data, showing how numeric kinetic data allow one to measure the temporal and spatial dimensions of gestural articulations and to visualize movement traces.
Cognitive Semiotics – de Gruyter
Published: May 30, 2018
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