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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on August 8, 2019

Jennifer Hinnell

The Verbal-Kinesic Enactment of Contrast in North American English

In this paper, I explore the linguistic and kinesic expression of contrast—the pitting of one position, object, or idea, against another. The archetype utterance for the embodied expression of contrast in English is the bipartite construction On the one hand . . . . On the other hand . . . . in which hand gestures are often performed sequentially along the sagittal axis (first on one side and then on the other side of the body) to depict the two options. However, English speakers have a variety of other linguistic means available to them for expressing contrast. Using data from naturally occurring discourse, I describe a range of linguistic resources that mark contrast and examine the semiotic relationships at play in the dynamic, multimodal signs (i.e. speech / gesture constructions) that accompany them. I demonstrate that, far from being ad hoc, when analyzed across the propositional, cognitive, and discursive domains, the way in which contrast is marked in the body can be viewed on a continuum of highly imageable to more schematically iconic kinesic movements. By placing the primary focus on the multimodal sign, this paper makes clear how speakers of North American English build semiotic environments around the construal of contrast.

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