Nick Enfield | The Anatomy of Meaning: Speech, Gesture and Composite Utterances (2009)
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The Anatomy of Meaning: Speech, Gesture, and Composite Utterances

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (2009), UK
N. J. Enfield


How do we understand what others are trying to say? The answer cannot be found in language alone. Words are linked to hand gestures and other visible phenomena to create unified ‘composite utterances’. In this book N. J. Enfield presents original case studies of speech-with-gesture based on fieldwork carried out with speakers of Lao (a language of Southeast Asia). He examines pointing gestures (including lip and finger-pointing) and illustrative gestures (examples include depicting fish traps and tracing kinship relations). His detailed analyses focus on the ‘semiotic unification’ problem, that is, how to make a single interpretation when multiple signs occur together. Enfield’s arguments have implications for all branches of science with a stake in meaning and its place in human social life. The book will appeal to all researchers interested in the study of meaning, including linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists.

– Provides a new understanding of the role of hand gesture in spoken utterances
– Based on original fieldwork carried out on speakers of Lao
– Challenges the traditional view that composite utterances are simply an embellishment or an aid to language, arguing that they are a fundamental part of human communication