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The use and function of gestures in word-finding difficulties in aphasia

Kistner, J., Dipper, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-5918-3898 & Marshall, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-6589-221X (2018). The use and function of gestures in word-finding difficulties in aphasia. Aphasiology, 33(11), pp. 1372-1392. doi: 10.1080/02687038.2018.1541343


Background: Gestures are spontaneous hand and arm movements that are part of everyday communication. The roles of gestures in communication are disputed. Most agree that they augment the information conveyed in speech. More contentiously, some argue that they facilitate speech, particularly when word-finding difficulties (WFD) occur. Exploring gestures in aphasia may further illuminate their role.

Aims: This study explored the spontaneous use of gestures in the conversation of participants with aphasia (PWA) and neurologically healthy participants (NHP). It aimed to examine the facilitative role of gesture by determining whether gestures particularly accompanied WFD and whether those difficulties were resolved.

Methods & Procedures: Spontaneous conversation data were collected from 20 PWA and 21 NHP. Video samples were analysed for gesture production, speech production, and WFD. Analysis 1 examined whether the production of semantically rich gestures in these conversations was affected by whether the person had aphasia, and/or whether there were difficulties in the accompanying speech. Analysis 2 identified all WFD in the data and examined whether these were more likely to be resolved if accompanied by a gesture, again for both groups of participants.

Outcomes & Results: Semantically rich gestures were frequently employed by both groups of participants, but with no effect of group. There was an effect of the accompanying speech, with gestures occurring most commonly alongside resolved WFD. An interaction showed that this was particularly the case for PWA. NHP, on the other hand, employed semantically rich gestures most frequently alongside fluent speech. Analysis 2 showed that WFD were common in both groups of participants. Unsurprisingly, these were more likely to be resolved for NHP than PWA. For both groups, resolution was more likely if a WFD was accompanied by a gesture.

Conclusions: These findings shed light on the different functions of gesture within conversation. They highlight the importance of gesture during WFD, both in aphasic and neurologically healthy language, and suggest that gesture may facilitate word retrieval.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Aphasiology on 18 Nov 2018, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Aphasia, gesture, conversation, word-finding difficulty, gesture function
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
SWORD Depositor:
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