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Home Position Revisited – Some Interactional Functions of Gesture

Conference paper
Authors Paul Cibulka
Published in Discourse / Conversation / Communication Conference 2012
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Language en
Keywords gesture, home position, conversation, analysis, sequentiality, CA, japanese
Subject categories Social Anthropology, Specific Languages, Japanology


When we talk about gesture, the home position (or rest position) is of crucial importance. McNeill (1992)⁠ defines this as a place where the hands rest when the speaker is not gesticulating, typically the speaker's lap or the armrest of the chair. Sacks and Schegloff (2002)⁠ point out that after the completion of a gesture unit the limbs are usually retracted to the same position from which they departed.

In gesture studies the focus has primarily been on the main speaker, dismissing interactional elements. Recent research, however, revealed that there is a clear correlation between the sequential organisation of talk and the gestures produced (Cibulka 2011; Hosoma 2009, 2011)⁠. I argue that this holds true for the choice of the home position as well.

In the course of analysing Japanese mundane face-to-face interaction, it becomes apparent that the position of resting hands is dynamic and changes frequently. Also, after the production of a gesture the hands are often retracted to a position different from where they departed. Speakers make frequent use of “temporary home positions”, i.e. positions projecting instability such as holding the hand in front of the chin.

I argue that these are not arbitrary positions which inevitably follow after a gesture unit, but rather represent the speakers' embodied orientations to the ongoing interaction in correlation to the sequential structure of talk.

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