Pointing in Science: An Analysis of Body and Linguistic Deixis in Nobel Lectures with PowerPoint Slides

Silvia Cavalieri


Within the last decades, PowerPoint has become a technology and a medium of communication that has contributed to a profound transformation of lecturing and presenting information in academia. However, until recently PowerPoint slideshows have received only limited attention in the fields of discourse analysis and social semiotic research (Djonov and Van Leeuwen 2011; 2012; 2013; Zhao, Djonov and Van Leeuwen 2014). Only a few studies have focused on the design of slideshows (e.g., Campagna 2009; Finn 2010; Rowley-Jolivet 2004) in relation to conference presentations (Degano 2012; Diani 2015; Costa 2017). Moreover, the interplay of speech, pointing, and body formations seems to have been neglected by the discourse analytical literature and has only been considered in the field of sociology (Knoblauch 2008). Pointing, nevertheless, seems to be a peculiar feature of conference presentations supported by PPT slides, allowing knowledge to be located in space. As a consequence, this paper aims to address aspects of linguistic pointing deixis in relation to the PowerPoint slides as well as to the body and gesture deixis of the presenter. To reach this aim, the study adopts a twofold methodology, fusing together Levinson’s theory of spatial deixis (1983) with the sociological approach of Knoblauch (2008) for body formation of pointing. The analysis is carried out on a corpus of nine Nobel lectures (i.e., three in economics; three in medicine; three in chemistry) collected from 2010 to 2015, considering their PowerPoints, their videos, and their transcriptions. Results show that knowledge transfer is defined in Nobel lecture PowerPoint presentations by the combination of speaking and showing, thus becoming presented knowledge rather than representing knowledge itself (Knoblauch 2008, 75).


English linguistics; PowerPoint; Nobel lectures; spatial deixis; pointing

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13136/2281-4582/2021.i17.1010


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