Associate Professor
Department of Cognitive Science
Crawford 612B
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DSC_0010If you watch people talking, you’ll notice that much of the time they are also moving their hands and arms around, or gesturing. Why do people do this? What’s the connection between such gestures and spoken languages? What are the similarities and differences between such gestures and the signs of sign languages? What can studying these gestures tell us about the human mind? These are the basic questions I study.

Recent projects have focused on viewpoint in gesture. When people are describing events, they sometimes take on the point of view of a character in the scene being described. At other times, they take the point of view of someone observing the event from a distance. I’m interested in finding out what factors cause participants to take a first-person or third-person perspective when describing events. I am also interested in finding out how such gestural phenomena relate to similar uses of the hands and body in signed languages. I relate these behaviors to embodied or simulation based theories of language. Such theories claim that during language production or comprehension, we generate modality-specific reconstructions of whatever the talk is about, using the same motor and visual parts of the brain that are involved in perception and action. I believe gesture has the potential to offer support for such theories, because gestures appear to be physical simulations of speech content.

Other areas of research include verbal aspect, mimicry, prosody, conceptual metaphor, and the use of gesture in teaching and learning.

Interested in working on gesture?

Undergraduates can learn how to conduct behavioral research, edit digital video and use tools for speech and gesture transcription and analysis. If you’re interested in this area, email parrilllabATgmailDOTcom. Be aware that students who have taken COGS 327 will receive preference for positions on gesture projects. This course trains students in gesture analysis. In other words, if you’re interested in this area of research, plan to take the course.

Three representative publications

Quinto-Pozos, D., & Parrill, F. (2014.) Signers and co-speech gesturers adopt similar strategies for portraying viewpoint in narratives. Topics in Cognitive Science 7(1), 1-23. PDF.

Parrill, F., Bergen, B. K., & Lichtenstein, P. V. (2013). Grammatical aspect in multimodal language production: Using gesture to reveal event representations.Cognitive Linguistics 24(1), 135–158. PDF.

Parrill, F. (2010). Viewpoint in speech-gesture integration: Linguistic structure, discourse structure, and event structure. Language and Cognitive Processes 25(5), 650-668. PDF.