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You can pick an Italian, not always so much by their appearance but by their often generous use of hand gestures when speaking. Maybe you have noticed you use your hands to express yourself when on the phone, even though the person you are talking to can’t see you!


Neuroscientist Marina Nespor has just coauthored a study examining the role gestures play in our speech.

Prosody is the term used to describe the intonation and rhythm of the spoken language which helps us to understand  the structure of the sentence and get the true message.

For example prosody enables you to understand the difference between a statement of fact “This is a new car” from the question “This is a new car?” So including gestures is a further insurance to ensure we really do get the gist.

The researchers concluded that hand gesturing is part of a common cognitive system that we have developed along with intonation and rhythm to add to the meaning of the spoken word, because the voice on its own, is not enough.

So next time you are in a conversation with someone, look to see what your hands and theirs are telling you.

Why certain societies have become so adept as using hand gestures to get their message across is unknown. But in our multi-cultural world, recognising different cultural preferences in prosody really does matter to ensure everyone is gets the right message.


Ref: Bahia Guellai, Alan Langus and Marina Nespor. Prosody in the hands of the speaker. Front. Psychol., 2014 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00700

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/62472560@N00/4139352539/”>LaVladina</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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