Do people use gestures differently to disambiguate the meanings of Japanese compounds?

AbstractSpoken language often includes ambiguity in meaning. Compounds such as “green teacup” can be interpreted with two different meanings: “green colored teacup” and “cup for green tea.” We can assume there are two different underlying syntactic structures. Phonetic aspects have been studied in the disambiguation process of such ambiguous phrases, but the roles of nonlinguistic information such as gestures have not been explored yet. We investigated whether people use gestures differently when they were asked to describe the meanings of Japanese compounds that can be interpreted as two different meanings. We found that the timing of gestures in relation to the target words of accompanying speech was different between right branching compounds and left branching compounds. Gestures seem to be used to suggest upcoming two words (adjective and noun) as a unit in branching. Gestures can be a useful means to disambiguate the meanings of compounds.

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