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Potentials and limitations of pantomime storytelling: An experimental study with intersemiotic translation.


  • Barbora Dadlíková

Summary, in English

When in need to tell stories we often find ourselves using not only our words but also accompanying gestures, as well as pictures. However, what if we were to use only gestures to narrate? Would the stories we tell be clear enough to understand? The thesis investigates the potentials and limitations of pantomime, which consists mostly of gesture, for storytelling. Concretely, through a unique two-step approach using intersemiotic translation (from language to gesture and then back to language) the thesis explores whether pantomimic narration used to tell a story can be understood without knowing the specific story – primary narrativity.
An experiment was conducted with 24 participants who formed pairs and took turns telling stories by translating them from English to pantomime and interpreting them by translating them from the observed pantomimes back to English. The material included 15 stories designed to fall into three groups based on the nature of the characters in the stories – generic human (man, woman, boy, girl), specific human (e.g., nurse and patient) and animal (e.g. lion and zebra). It was hypothesised that (a) most of the stories will be accurately interpreted, (b) actions will be the easiest story component to interpret, (c) the stories with specific characters will score less than the stories with generic characters and (d) that animal characters would be harder to communicate than human characters. All hypotheses were corroborated apart from the last, as it turned out that it was hardest to communicate stories with specific human characters.
The results support the potential of pantomime for primary narrativity and highlight the significance in the role of differences in level of semantic detail, or characteristic traits, within each character description. Such differences in the level of detail exist in other components as well which was not taken into consideration and should be of interest for the future research.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Jordan Zlatev (Docent)