Certainly, there was some
deep meaning in it, most worthy of interpretation, and which, as it were,
streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my
sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind.
--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet
sign. 1. A body movement, posture, or material
artifact that encodes or influences a concept, motivation, or mood (thus, a
gesture is neither matter nor energy, but information). 2. In its most generic
sense, a gesture is a sign,
signal, or cue
used to communicate in tandem with, or apart from, words.
3. Gestures include facial
expressions (e.g., EYEBROW-RAISE, SMILE), clothing cues (e.g., BUSINESS
SUIT, NECKWEAR), body
movements (e.g., PALM-DOWN, SHOULDER-SHRUG), and postures (e.g., ANGULAR
DISTANCE). Many consumer
products (e.g., BIG
GRILLE, VEHICULAR STRIPE) contain messaging
features designed to communicate as signs, and may be decoded as
gestures as well. 4. Those wordless forms of communication
omitted from a written transcript. (E.g., while the printed transcripts
of the Nixon Tapes reported the words spoken by the former president
and his White House staff, they captured few of the gestures exchanged in the
Oval Office during the Nixon years.)
Anthropology. ". . . we respond to gestures with an extreme
alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret
code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all" (Sapir
1927:556; see below, Hand gestures).
1. "This article (Acredolo and Goodwyn 1985) presents the story of our
first 'Baby Signer,' Linda's daughter Kate who began to spontaneously create
symbolic gestures when she was about 12 months old. These were 'sensible'
gestures (like sniffing for 'flower' and arms-up for 'big'). We then made it
easy for her by modeling other simple gestures for things in which she was
interested and followed her progress in terms of both gestural and verbal
development" (from Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn's Baby Signs Research
web page). 2. Subsequently, Acredolo, Goodwin, and others applied their
findings about Baby Signs (a.k.a. symbolic gesturing), to teach and
encourage the use of symbolic gestures in infancy so as to improve verbal
language acquisition (see, e.g., Goodwyn, Acredolo, and Brown
Cetology. "A sequence of three gestures LEFT, FRISBEE,
TAIL-TOUCH instructs the dolphin to swim with the frisbee that is to its left
with its tail flukes" (Montgomery 1990:B2).
hundreds of human-wide, universal gestures, such as the shoulder-shrug and smile
(which, themselves, may be shaped by culture) are hundreds of additional
gestures which must be learned to be understood (see NONVERBAL
COMMUNICATION, Kind of cues). Many of the latter, culturally
coded gestures--such as the hand ring (Italy), hand ring-jerk
(Great Britain), hand ring-kiss (France), and hand ring pull-side
(Holland)--have been identified by Desmond Morris (1994).
gestures. We respond to hand gestures with an extreme alertness because
dedicated nerve cells in our primate
brain's lower temporal lobe respond exclusively to hand
outlines, positions, and shapes (Kandel et al.
Paleontology of gesture. ". . . there is a primate
(or perhaps mammalian or even vertebrate) level [of nonverbal communication]
that contains the gestural primitives common to all people and in some instances
all primates or all mammals. Examples are gestures implying bigness as signs of
threat or intimidation [see LOOM], and gestures implying smallness as signs of
submission [see CROUCH]. Loudness and softness in vocal communication have
the same import. In this context, Givens (1986) has called for a 'paleontology
of gesture'" (Armstrong et al. 1995:6-7).
chimpanzees. ". . . bonobos often add so-called finger-flexing, in which the
four fingers of the open hand are bent and stretched in rapid alternation,
making the [outstretched-hand gestured] invitation [i.e., the request for food,
support, or bodily contact] look more urgent" (Waal and Lanting 1997:29).
Salesmanship. "Rehearse the speed at which you
gesture, either in a mirror or on videotape. Quick, jerky movement belies a calm
interior or voice" (Delmar 1984:48).
Sea lion gestures. "Four
gestures, which indicate WHITE, SMALL, FOOTBALL and TAIL tell the sea lions to
find the small white football and touch it with its tail" (Montgomery
Sociology. "Following Wundt, [George Herbert] Mead [in
his 1934 book, Mind, Self, and Society, Chicago, U Chicago Press] took
the gesture as the transitional link to language from action, and also as the
phenomenon establishing the continuities of human and infrahuman social life"
Word origin. From Latin gestus, from
(past participle) gerere, "to behave."
REPORTS: 1. "Gesture includes much more than the
manipulation of the hands and other visible and movable parts of the organism.
Intonations of the voice may register attitudes and feelings quite as
significantly as the clenched fist, the wave of the hand, the shrugging of the
shoulders, or the lifting of the eyebrows" (Sapir 1931:105). 2.
The term ethology was used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries
for "the interpretation of character by the study of [human] gesture"; in the
20th century ethology came to mean the "comparative anatomy of [animal]
gestures," to reveal the "true characters of the animals" (Thorpe
E-Commentary: "I am a support
teacher for visually impaired children and I am currently working with a blind 8
year old girl. I am looking for information on teaching suitable gestures to
replace socially unacceptable behaviours. One such behaviour is the flapping of
arms when excited. This student is very bright and social. Any suggestions on
other gestures or body language that may be helpful would
be appreciated." --J.W., Australia (8/6/01 11:47:10 PM Pacific Daylight
Neuro-notes I. Many hand gestures are produced in speech areas of the
right hemisphere, which were abandoned, in early childhood, as language shifted
to the left hemisphere (Carter 1998:155).
Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: "A communicative gesture made by an actor (the sender) retrieves in the observer (the receiver) the neural circuit encoding the motor representation of the same gesture--that is, its goal/meaning--thus enabling the receiver to understand the gesture or message of the sender (Rizzolatti & Arbib, 1998)" (Fogassi and Ferrari 2007:137). "[Mirror] neurons enable individuals to understand actions performed by others. Two subcategories of mirror neurons in monkeys activate when they listen to action sounds and when they observe communicative gestures made by others, respectively (Fogassi and Ferrari 2007:136).
Neuro-notes III. Why we gesture with our hands as we speak: I've always wondered about this. . . . Source: Bass, A. H and B. Chagnaud (2012) Shared developmental and evolutionary origins of neural basis of vocal-acoustic and pectoral-gestural signaling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA):
"Acoustic signaling behaviors are widespread among bony vertebrates, which include the majority of living fishes and tetrapods. Developmental studies in sound-producing fishes and tetrapods indicate that central pattern generating networks dedicated to vocalization originate from the same caudal hindbrain rhombomere (rh) 8-spinal compartment. Together, the evidence suggests that vocalization and its morphophysiological basis, including mechanisms of vocal-respiratory coupling that are widespread among tetrapods, are ancestral characters for bony vertebrates. Premotor-motor circuitry for pectoral appendages that function in locomotion and acoustic signaling develops in the same rh8-spinal compartment. Hence, vocal and pectoral phenotypes in fishes share both developmental origins and roles in acoustic communication. These findings lead to the proposal that the coupling of more highly derived vocal and pectoral mechanisms among tetrapods, including those adapted for nonvocal acoustic and gestural signaling, originated in fishes. Comparative studies further show that rh8 premotor populations have distinct neurophysiological properties coding for equally distinct behavioral attributes such as call duration. We conclude that neural network innovations in the spatiotemporal patterning of vocal and pectoral mechanisms of social communication, including forelimb gestural signaling, have their evolutionary origins in the caudal hindbrain of fishes."
Neuro-notes IV. Muscles that today move the human larynx and pectoral girdle evolved from hypobranchial muscles that originally opened the mouths and gill openings of ancient fishes. Paleocircuits that mediate our laryngeal and pectoral movements are connected in the posterior hindbrain and anterior spinal cord (Bass and Chagnaud 2013). The sonic properties of these bodily regions (vocalizing and pectoral vibration, respectively) were recruited for social signaling in a watery world. The sounds were basically "assertion displays" used to announce a sender's physical presence, often in courtship, to attract mates or repel rivals. Controlled by branchial muscles, these body parts were more easily aroused to produce vibratory sounds than were parts controlled by other than branchial nerves. In primates, the pectoral movements became visual signals, which in humans are called gestures.
YouTube Video: Watch some Japanese and Polish gestures.
Video: Watch Marco Rubio's reaching gesture.
Copyright 1998 - 2014 (David B.
Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Photo of friendly, engaging, welcoming palm-up cue (picture credit: unknown)