Lingraphica Co-founder and Chief Scientist, Dr. Richard Steele, summarizes the findings of a team of investigators at academic and rehabilitation centers in The Netherlands, Warwick University (UK), and La Trobe University (Australia).


The team reports how gestures are used communicatively by persons with aphasia (PWA). Their research focuses specifically on gesture types and representation techniques that convey information which is absent in the speech of the PWA during communicative transactions—that is, in their terminology, “essential gestures.”

The researchers studied 46 PWA with a comparison group of 9 non-brain-damaged (NBD) persons. Each group was approximately balanced by gender, with members in age between 35-85. The PWA spanned main aphasia diagnostic categories and presented with a mean Aphasia Quotient of 65 (out of 100) and a mean Spontaneous Speech Information Content rating of 7 (out of 10). Participants engaged in semi-structured conversations, from which gestures were analyzed for situational communicative contributions, assignment to categories by gesture type, overall group tabulations, and comparisons.

While considerable gestural variability in PWA participants was found, overall analysis shows that—in the mean—they produced:

  • significantly more essential gestures than NBD participants, absolutely
  • significantly more essential gestures than NBD participants, proportionally.

Quantitatively, approximately 20% of PWA gestures were identified as essential. Of these, the most frequently observed types of gestures were ‘pointing,’ ‘emblems,’ and ‘iconic.’  Regarding specifically iconic gestures, PWA tended to favor ‘path-gestures’ and ‘enact-gestures’ more than NBD participants; the latter, in turn, more frequently produced ‘shape-gestures’ and ‘utilization-gestures.’ It appears the NBD participants were using gestures more to emphasize or dramatize, rather than to amplify with supplemental information.

The research makes important contributions via the introduction, elaboration, and illustrative use of a framework for studying gestures in the communications of PWA. The investigators’ finding that 1 in 5 gestures of PWA is essential establishes the importance of continuing the work. Beneficiaries can include the SLPs, through better support and training of clients, as well as PWA and communication partners, through better understanding and use of gestures.

For further reading:  K. van Nispen, Mieke van de Sandt-Koenderman, Kazuki Sekine, Emiel Krahmer, M. L. Rose, 2017.  Part of the message comes in gesture: how people with aphasia convey information in different gesture types as compared with information in their speech. Aphasiology, 31(9):1078–1103.

Related Aphasia Information Links

Back to The Aphasia Resource Library

Visit the Aphasia Resource Library