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'Is it President Obama's fault? [...] Is it President Obama's fault?' Gesture and emphasis in the US Presidential debates of 2016

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Abstract

This study aims to identify regular gestural correlates with different verbal emphatic expressions in American English, produced in political debates. We investigate how speakers express emphatic structures as we identify co-occurring gestural features and estimate their frequency. Emphasis here is used as a synonym for focalization, a phenomenon related to information structure; it refers to a communicative effort from speakers, which results in a particular syntactic, prosodic, or gestural configuration. This configuration includes a surface element that is supposed to be perceived by co-speakers as standing out. Such emphatic elements will include verbal (for instance Norrick 2004; Ferré 2014) as well as gestural elements (Cassell & McNeill 1990; Krahmer & Swerts 2007, for instance). Research has shown that both gestural beats (Hardison 2018) as well as raised eyebrows (Granström & House 2005; Tabacaru 2019) play a role in meaning construction. Although some research has noted the prominence of hand gestures that co-occur with the speech of politicians (see for instance Hall et al. 2016 or Lefkowitz 2021 for Trump’s speech style), little work has been carried out about the role and systematicity of other articulators (i.e., head and eyebrows). This study is based on the US presidential debates of 2016 between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, annotated using ELAN for both gestures and facial expressions. We first identified six different types of verbal emphasis. We then focused on the presence of large hand gestures, eyebrow rises, and head beats in our analysis. Our results show that the six individual types of emphasis show relations with different gestural cues (eyebrow rises; large hand gestures). However, head gestures are used consistently across these types in our data.
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Dates and versions

hal-03737114 , version 1 (23-07-2022)

Identifiers

  • HAL Id : hal-03737114 , version 1

Cite

Sabina Tabacaru, Manon Lelandais. 'Is it President Obama's fault? [...] Is it President Obama's fault?' Gesture and emphasis in the US Presidential debates of 2016. ISGS 2022 - 9th International Conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies, Jul 2022, Chicago, United States. ⟨hal-03737114⟩
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