When and why the lexical Ground is a gestural Figure
When speakers encode a locative relationship in speech, they express the location of an object or a group of objects (the ‘Figure’) in relation to one or more reference objects (the ‘Ground’). However, they can also use gesture to express the lexical Ground’s location at the same time: this has been called a ‘gestural Figure’ (Tutton, 2013). Our aim in this paper is to examine why speakers use gestural Figures, and what these gestures reveal about spatial conceptualisation. To do this, we provide an in-depth analysis of a recurrent context in which gestural Figures occur: when speakers encode location with English between and French entre. These gestures reveal the salient horizontal axis underpinning the use of between and entre in context. Our analysis subsequently shows that gestural Figures also occur with a variety of other items that encode locative relationships. We argue that this highlights the pivotal nature of the Ground’s location to the selection and use of lexical items that encode locative relationships, while also revealing the intrinsically Figure-like quality of the lexical Ground. On a cognitive level, this implies that the lexical Ground is actually conceptualised as a Figure, thus highlighting a crucial similarity between the concepts of Figure and Ground as applied to locative expressions.
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