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Image schemas, mimetic schemas, and the development of Swedish children’s gestures


  • Klara Sif Skarphédinsdóttir

Summary, in English

Language and gesture are two semiotic systems that work together in close integration during communication. One issue in particular, that of image schemas, has been studied in relation to gestures, though most often in adult gesture and communication (Williams, forthcoming; Cienki, 2013; Mittelberg, 2006, 2018). This contrasts with mimetic schemas, which are thought to be more specific structures than image schemas, underlying children’s first iconic gestures (Zlatev, 2014).
This thesis explored the gestures of three Swedish children in their fourth year. The aim was to discover whether there is a transition from more concrete modes of expression motivated by mimetic schemas, to more abstract modes of expression motivated by image schemas. This was achieved by analysing video-recorded data of three Swedish children and their caregivers in a natural environment using the CLAN software (MacWhinney, 2000). Their gestures and corresponding language were analysed, and in particular, iconic gestures and the corresponding language, with focus on the categories of Viewpoint and Mode of Representation (MOR). The results showed that more concrete modes of expression in terms of Character Viewpoint and Acting MOR were more frequent at the beginning of the fourth year, while more abstract modes of expression in terms of Observer Viewpoint and Tracing/Drawing MOR are more frequent towards the end of the fourth year, which could be interpreted as an emergence of image schema-based gestures. Representing and Moulding gestures were intermediary. The overall analysis showed that there may be a trend towards abstractness that is more gradual than abrupt, though further studies would be needed to confirm this. Further, abstract gestures did not emerge until language had been firmly established, as well as its link to gesture. This finding points to a link between image schemas and language, directly or not.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Gesture
  • Communication
  • Language
  • Image Schema
  • Mimetic Schema
  • Mimesis
  • Sign
  • Sign function
  • Cognitive Semiotics
  • Viewpoint
  • Mode of Representation
  • Semiotic Grounds


  • Jordan Zlatev (Docent)