Muscular Activity in the Arm during Lexical Retrieval: Implications for Gesture-Speech Theories

The origin and functions of the hand and arm gestures that accompany speech production are poorly understood. It has been proposed that gestures facilitate lexical retrieval, but little is known about when retrieval is accompanied by gestural activity and how this activity is related to the semantics of the word to be retrieved. Electromyographic (EMG) activity of the dominant forearm was recorded during a retrieval task in which participants tried to identify target words from their definitions. EMG amplitudes were significantly greater for concrete than for abstract words. The relationship between EMG amplitude and other conceptual attributes of the target words was examined. EMG was positively related to a word’s judged spatiality, concreteness, drawability, and manipulability. The implications of these findings for theories of the relation between speech production and gesture are discussed.