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).
Assertion gestures. Gestures made with the forelimbs (e.g., reptilian push-ups and our own palm-down and palm-up cues) are basically "assertion displays," used to advertise (Greenberg 2002) and to assert a sender's physical presence to fellow species members. In Anolis lizards, an assertion display is a visual body movement--such as a push-up to a high-stand above the earthly plain--that is designed to attract notice toward the displayer (Fleishman and Pallus 2010).
That in human beings assertion gestures often accompany speech is due in part to an ancient neural link between vocalizing (speech) and forelimb signaling (gesturing with the hands). 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. Neurocircuits that mediate our laryngeal and pectoral movements are connected in the posterior hindbrain and anterior spinal cord (Bass and Chagnaud 2012).
Assertion displays can therefore be verbal and/or nonverbal, as the two are neurologically linked. Verbally, "An assertion is a speech act in which something is claimed to hold. . . . The concept of assertion has often held a central place in the philosophy of language. . ." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for "Assertion," http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/assertion/ [accessed April 11, 2014]). The English word "assert," for example, comes from the 7,000-year-old Indo-European root word ser-, important derivatives of which are "exert" (as to exert oneself physically), "insert" (e.g., to insert oneself into a conversation), and "sermon" (to exhort or urge by strong argument) (Soukhanov 1992, p. 2124). Subsequently, in Latin, the word "serere" came to mean "attach, join (in speech), [and] discuss" (Soukhanov 1992, p. 2124).
Baby 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 (2000).
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).
Culture. Accompanying 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).
Hand 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. 1991:458-59). "Speech production and speech-related gestures are connected to such a degree that they have been considered as outlets of the same thought process, a view supported by the finding that hand and orofacial gestures are supported by the speech production area, i.e., Broca's region" (Nishitoni et al. 2005, p. 66).
"However, the mirror neuron system does not constitute the only plausible language-ready system consistent with a gestural origins account. The present results provide an alternative (or complementary) possibility. Rather than being fundamentally related to . . . behaviors such as grasping or ingestion or to an automatic sensorimotor resonance between physical actions and meaning, language may have developed (at least in part) upon a different neural scaffold, i.e., the same perisylvian system [e.g., Broca's and Wernicke's areas] that presently processes language. In this view, a precursor of this system supported gestural communication in a common ancestor, where it played a role in pairing gesture and meaning. It was then adapted for the comparable pairing of sound and meaning as voluntary control over the vocal apparatus was established and spoken language evolved. And--as might be predicted by this account--the system continues to processes both symbolic gesture and spoken language in the human brain" (Xu et al. 2009).
Paleontology of gesture. "Hewes (1973) suggested that a gestural language preceded spoken language" (Givens 1976, p. 53)[.]
". . . 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).
Primatology, 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 1990:B2).
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" (Martindale 1960:355).
Word origin. From Latin gestus, from (past participle) gerere, "to behave."
RESEARCH 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 1974:147).