Multi-modal meaning – An empirically-founded process algebra approach

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Hannes Rieser
Insa Lawler


Humans communicate with different modalities. We offer an account of multi-modal meaning coordination, taking speech-gesture meaning coordination as a prototypical case. We argue that temporal synchrony (plus prosody) does not determine how to coordinate speech meaning and gesture meaning. Challenging cases are asynchrony and broadcasting cases, which are illustrated with empirical data. We propose that a process algebra account satisfies the desiderata. It models gesture and speech as independent but concurrent processes that can communicate flexibly with each other and exchange the same information more than once. The account utilizes the ψ-calculus, allowing for agents, input-output-channels, concurrent processes, and data transport of typed λ-terms. A multi-modal meaning is produced integrating speech meaning and gesture meaning into one semantic package. Two cases of meaning coordination are handled in some detail: the asynchrony between gesture and speech, and the broadcasting of gesture meaning across several dialogue contributions. This account can be generalized to other cases of multi-modal meaning.

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Hannes Rieser, Bielefeld University

Professor Emeritus of Linguistics

Insa Lawler, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy