[xmca] Analyses of gesture at AAAL

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri May 04 2007 - 02:09:15 PDT

The colloquium on gesture at the annual conference of the American Association of Applied Linguistics was one of the most interesting events of the whole conference. One of Jim Lantolf's students presented some stuff on how Chinese people gestured in Chinese and in English (more in English than in Chinese, which certainly suggests a self-regulatory function).
  The problem was their tendency to LINGUICIZE gestures--to assume that they were used as a kind of communication strategy, used as a substitute for language. This is a very convenient assumption because it suggests we can apply many of the techniques we use for analyzing language to analyzing gesture.
  In particular, there was a lot of stimulated recall. Subjects were shown videotapes of themselves gesturing, and asked to explain (that is, to put into language) their reasons for using gesture. This automatically meant that gestures had linguistic interpretations.
  So for example I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how people use gesture to describe the actions of Tweety Bird and Sylvester in various languages, and how this varies according to whether the verb system of the language emphasizes manner or goal.
  In contrast, Jina Lee presented some very interesting data on gestures people made when they were studying ALONE--that is, self-regulatory gestures. And this got me thinking.
  One my grad students has been working on the gestures made by sixth graders when they improvise in English. He finds that certain types of gestures tend to disappear when they repeat a task. So we are coding the gestures as follows:
  a) nonvolitional gestures. These are gestures that do not appear to have any communicative intent. shivering, shaking, playing with hair, nervously plucking at clothes, looking away during a word search are examples of these. These gestures are generally iconic, not in MacNeill's sense, but in Peirce's sense of "firstness", they have no meaning that exists apart from action.
  b) semi-volitional gestures. These are gestures that appear to have a communicative intent, but that communicative intent seems to be directed to the self rather than to others. This includes almost all of Jina Lee's solitary self-regulatory gestures; it also includes swinging arms or nodding to try to get intonation right. MacNeill's "beats" correspond to this category, since they serve to assign stress. They are indexicals, again, not in MacNeill's sense, but in a more Peircean sense of "secondness": they point to symbolic meanings, and form a bridge between icons and symbols.
  c) volitional gestures. These are gestures that clearly have other-directed communicative intent. Here we include MacNeill's deictics, metaphorics, and emblematics. For example, pointing at someone when you say "you", or waving goodbye, smiling are examples of volitional gestures.
  So far, we have three interesting findings:
  a) The non-volitional gestures often occur during word searches and reflect silences. This suggests (to me) that for these kids language emerges from gesture rather than vice versa.
  b) The semi-volitional gestures tend to disappear when the children are not improvising (when they repeat the dialogue), which suggests (to me) that the semi-volitionals have a function similar to egocentric speech.
  c) The volitional gestures do not directly correspond to words but rather to utterances. For example, the pointing gesture does not tend to occur when the word "you" is uttered, even when that word is stressed.
  Another extremely interesting contribution to this topic at the conference was the presentation by Takako Nishino and Hanako Okada on a Japanese adolescent and her aunt doing grammar exercises. The aunt used "alignment" in gesture to "get on side" with her niece and "scaffold" her English. (Unfortunately, the presenters assumed a scaffolding interpretation of the ZPD.)
  One of the very few ideas that I put to Halliday that he actually seemed to like was that to children language appears as a kind of phonological metaphor--I use a word to do what I would normally do with my hands.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Fri May 4 03:11 PDT 2007

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