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Screaming yellow: An exploratory study of how speakers gesture and speak about colour and colour theory


  • Thit Leonora Amsen

Summary, in English

The abstract subject of colour is a widely studied subject in spoken languages. However, very little is known about colour in relation to gesture. A substantial part of the literature on gesture and abstract content is concerned with referential gestures and especially metaphorical mapping. Less is known about gestures performed in relation to abstract content that is not metaphoric and even less about abstract content and pragmatic gestures. This paper investigates how people with expert and novice knowledge of colour theory speak and gesture about colour using Danish as the example language. The functions and the distributional patterns of the gestures that occur with talk about colour as well as the semantic relationship between speech and gesture is also examined. A structured interview was used as the elicitation procedure and the gestures were coded as either referential or pragmatic in function. The results showed 1) that during colour talk, almost half of the speech consisted of colour naming terms, and most of these were instances of the basic colour terms; 2) The colour novices predominantly produced gestures with a pragmatic function, whereas the experts did not differ much in their amount of referential and pragmatic gestures; 3) There was a semantic overlap between the referential gestures and co-occurring speech for the concrete content, but for the more abstract content, metaphorical mappings were often used to structure the subject, which were then expressed in the co-occurring referential gestures; 4) For the colour novices, the remaining pragmatic gestures often occurred in relation to disfluency of speech commenting on the break-down of speech, whereas the experts were more prone to keep the hand in a hold during disfluencies. The findings suggest that gesture should also be investigated in relation to abstract subjects and that familiarity with a subject might have an influence on gesture production.


  • Master's Programme: Language and Linguistics

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • gesture
  • colour
  • abstract content
  • metaphor


  • Marianne Gullberg (Professor)