Syntactic Structure Influences Speech-Gesture Synchronization

  • Kei Kashiwadate Tokyo Denki University
  • Tetsuya Yasuda Tokyo Denki University
  • Koji Fujita Kyoto University
  • Sotaro Kita University of Warwick
  • Harumi Kobayashi Tokyo Denki University


It is known that a phrase may have multiple meanings. Phrases such as “green tea cup” may be interpreted with two different meanings—a “green-colored tea cup” or a “cup of green tea.” Then how people know the exact meanings of apparently syntactically ambiguous linguistic expressions? We propose that gesture that accompanies speech may help disambiguate syntactically ambiguous structures. The present study investigated whether the difference in phrase structures influences the production of gestures. Participants produced gestures as they produced a Japanese four-word phrases. We examined all possible synchronization patterns of speech and gestures. We found, for the first time, gestures tended to synchronize with the chunks of words that form a constituent in syntactic structures. Our study suggests that gestures may play an important role in disambiguating syntactically ambiguous phrases. This could be a reason why humans have continuously used gestures even after they acquired a powerful tool of language and why today, they still produce language-redundant gestures.

Author Biographies

Kei Kashiwadate, Tokyo Denki University

Guraduate student

Tetsuya Yasuda, Tokyo Denki University

Project research assistant professor

Koji Fujita, Kyoto University


Sotaro Kita, University of Warwick


Harumi Kobayashi, Tokyo Denki University


Original Articles