Manuel Padilla Cruz: Gestuality and ad hoc concept construction


Relevance theorists assume that the denotation of the mental concepts activated by open-class words like nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, is adjusted through lexical pragmatic processes. Their result is specified, occasion-specific, conceptual representations labelled ad hoc concepts (Sperber and Wilson 1998; Carston 2000, 2002; Wilson and Sperber 2004). Such processes are considered a case of free pragmatic enrichment. Hence, they are believed to be non-linguistically mandated and to be automatically accomplished during mutual parallel adjustment (Carston 2000, 2010a).

Recent research suggests that ad hoc-concept construction may be overtly marked by various linguistic elements which somehow steer its output. These include evaluative morphemes, like the diminutive and the augmentative morphemes in some inflectional languages; lexical and phrasal items adjacent to content words, like articles, demonstratives, adjectives or expressive expletives, and stylistic resources, like repetition or rewording. Paralinguistic inputs have also been claimed to fulfil similar enacting and steering functions (Wharton 2009). However, whether all types of paralinguistic inputs do so and how have not been duly ascertained.

This presentation will centre on one category of paralinguistic inputs: gestuality. It will argue that deliberately produced gestures may ostensively indicate that idiosyncratic conceptual representations are needed, thus assisting hearers to capture what speakers refer to. However, this presentation will restrict this function to only three types of gestural inputs: emblems, pantomimes and language-like gestures or illustrators. These will be suggested to give rise to occasion-specific mental entities subsuming not simply propositional information, but also non-propositional information (Carston 2010b). Finally, this presentation will exclude proper gesticulation from contributing to lexical pragmatic processes because of its spontaneous and instinctive nature.

Carston, Robyn. 2000. “Explicature and Semantics.” UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 12: 1–44.

Carston, Robyn. 2002. Thoughts and Utterances. The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.

Carston, Robyn. 2010a. “Lexical Pragmatics, Ad Hoc Concepts and Metaphor: From a Relevance Theory Perspective.” Italian Journal of Linguistics 22 (1): 153–180.

Carston, Robyn. 2010b. “Metaphor: Ad Hoc Concepts, Literal Meaning and Mental Images.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 110 (3): 295–321.

Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. 1998. “The Mapping between the Mental and the Public Lexicon.” In Language and Thought: Interdisciplinary Themes, ed. by Peter Carruthers, and Jill Boucher, 184–200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wharton, Tim. 2009. Pragmatics and Non-verbal Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, Deirdre, and Dan Sperber. 2004. “Relevance Theory.” In The Handbook of Pragmatics, ed. by Larry Horn, and Gregory Ward, 607–632. Oxford: Blackwell.