The Anatomy of Meaning

Speech, Gesture, and Composite Utterances

How do we understand what others are trying to say? The answer cannot be found in language alone. Words are linked to hand gestures and other visible phenomena to create unified 'composite utterances'. In this 2009 book N. J. Enfield presents original case studies of speech-with-gesture based on fieldwork carried out with speakers of Lao (a language of Southeast Asia). He examines pointing gestures (including lip and finger-pointing) and illustrative gestures (examples include depicting fish traps and tracing kinship relations). His detailed analyses focus on the 'semiotic unification' problem, that is, how to make a single interpretation when multiple signs occur together. Enfield's arguments have implications for all branches of science with a stake in meaning and its place in human social life. The book will appeal to all researchers interested in the study of meaning, including linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists.


 Reviews:

Review of the hardback: '… extraordinarily interesting book … it is a virtue of Enfield's book that, through its clarity and explicitness, it opens these differences in viewpoint up for debate. This is one reason why the impact of The Anatomy of Meaning will go beyond the value of its empirical findings and the contributions to the workings of gesture that it makes.' Pragmatics and Cognition

Review of the hardback: '… an extremely thought-provoking and valuable contribution to the recent cross-disciplinary trend of research on the cognitive and pragmatic conditions for human interaction.' Geoffrey Gowlland, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Review of the hardback: 'Enfield's The Anatomy of Meaning is a pathbreaking exploration of multimodal communication based on Lao video-recordings and fieldwork. Of special interest is his notion of 'composites', through which he addresses the question of cross-modal integration - how it is that signs in different modalities cohere, speech and gesture being his focus. For whom, to what degree, and through what means do composites coalesce? Does this notion denote a kind of cross-modal orderliness, or the achievement of orderliness - perhaps through heuristics and inference-making? … [The] Anatomy of Meaning is, simply put, in the vanguard of the science of communication. It deserves wide attention.' Michael Lempert, Language in Society