Kinect-ing the Dots: Using Motion-Capture Technology to Distinguish Sign Language Linguistic From Gestural Expressions

Rose Stamp, David Cohn, Hagit Hel-Or, Wendy Sandler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Just as vocalization proceeds in a continuous stream in speech, so too do movements of the hands, face, and body in sign languages. Here, we use motion-capture technology to distinguish lexical signs in sign language from other common types of expression in the signing stream. One type of expression is constructed action, the enactment of (aspects of) referents and events by (parts of) the body. Another is classifier constructions, the manual representation of analogue and gradient motions and locations simultaneously with specified referent morphemes. The term signing is commonly used for all of these, but we show that not all visual signals in sign languages are of the same type. In this study of Israeli Sign Language, we use motion capture to show that the motion of lexical signs differs significantly along several kinematic parameters from that of the two other modes of expression: constructed action and the classifier forms. In so doing, we show how motion-capture technology can help to define the universal linguistic category “word,” and to distinguish it from the expressive gestural elements that are commonly found across sign languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-276
Number of pages22
JournalLanguage and Speech
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jun 2023
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme, Grant Agreement No. 340140.

FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme340140
European Research Council


    • Sign language
    • classifier constructions
    • constructed action
    • gesture
    • linguistic categories
    • motion capture
    • movement


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