30: Why do we gesture when we talk?

30: Why do we gesture when we talk?


[Music] G: Welcome to Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s
enthusiastic about linguistics! I’m Gretchen McCulloch. L: And I’m Lauren Gawne. And in today’s
episode, we’re getting enthusiastic about the gestures that we make when we speak. But
first, welcome to our first video episode. G: Video! L: Very exciting. Thanks to our patrons, we
reached a funding goal where we were able to pay for the extra production costs to have
a video. And, of course, as soon as we decided that, I couldn’t help but hope that we would
do a gesture episode. And so that is our first video episode. G: So you can see the gestures. This is also
being released as an audio episode in the normal feed, so if you’re hearing this,
you can listen to it audio-only, but you will miss some of the gestures. So you can go to
YouTube.com/lingthusiasm to see the full gesture-y version. [Music] G: And now gestures. Lauren, they’re really
cool. You’ve done proper research on these. L: I have, yes. G: How did you get into gestures? L: I did a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate
and, like many people, kind of found linguistics in my first year of doing an undergraduate
degree and thought, “This subject is so cool!” that I was still doing it, and I
was majoring in it by the end of my third year. And in the last semester of third year,
I thought linguistics was cool, but I really thought that I wanted to do further study
in art history. And then in the final class, the final semester, I took a subject called
“Language and Culture” with Barb Kelly, who I blame a lot of my – G: Barb Kelly is great. L: – interests on. One week of this class
on language and culture was about this topic of gesture studies that she’d done some
work in. And by the time you get to third year of linguistics, you kind of know about
sounds, and phonetics, and syntax, and sentence structure… G: And you think you kind of know it all. L: Yeah, and you especially think you know
it all by the end of third year, and that completely changes the more that you study
and the less, you realise, you knew. And learning about gesture was one of those moments where
I was just like “There’s this whole part of language that I’ve never thought of before.”
And within about two weeks of that set of lectures, I had changed my major and changed
my future study plans. I kind of jumped in deep. G: Yeah. L: And I have not regretted it ever since. G: I only really found out about gesture because
of you and because we were talking about part of my book that looks at emoji, and you were
like, “There’s actually some gesture stuff that’s relevant to this.” L: Yes, I’m so pleased that I managed to
convince you to reference gesture even in the book on the internet where there’s technically
no people around to gesture. We still found that gesture was relevant. G: Well, and I had the same experience of
just – this was more recently – just thinking I knew most of how linguistics works and then
walking around being like “This is so cool.” I’m slightly spying on people in restaurants
and around me. I’m like “They’re using gestures so much.” L: It’s true. Once you start paying attention
to gesture, it’s really hard to stop. And I really apologise to all of you watching
this video who are now gonna be analysing our gestures. I’m sure Gretchen’s gonna
spend half the episode watching her own hands. G: Yeah, this is what I was doing. I was typing
with one hand [gestures one hand typing, one hand raised], and I was like “Okay, so if
I do this [positions raised hand] …if I do this [repositions raised hand] …” with
the other hand. It was very… L: You begin to see language as being a much
bigger thing and used in a whole different way. G: Yeah, absolutely. So that kind brings us
to our first big idea in gesture, which is that it helps with thinking. L: Yeah, so I think the important thing to
say is, as far as we know, everyone in every culture that we’ve come across, and speakers
of all languages, gesture. In the way that we think of language as something that all
humans have, gesture is part of that. We haven’t come across a speech community yet who don’t
have gesture in their communicative, little toolkit. Even – I mean, not “even” – but
that also includes signed languages. And, you know, admittedly, it’s a bit of a grey
area for some of them because both the gesture and the sign component use the same materials.
For speakers of spoken languages, you obviously have two different channels happening. You
have the spoken channel and the hand channel for the gestures. But signed languages do
have components that really should be analysed gesturally. I remember when I was learning
– I was in an Auslan class. And our Auslan professor was showing us a story that someone
was telling in Auslan. And then they asked us to kind of pick out the signs. He wanted
us to tell him what vocabulary we got from the story. And there were a couple of items
where we were like “He opens a can.” And the sign teacher was like “Oh, that’s
not a sign, though. That’s just a gesture.” You could see people in the class were really
like, kind of – not confused, but there is a boundary between what is a lexical item
and what is just a gestural representation from the story. G: So the kind of thing you might find in
a signed dictionary that is specifically listing the signs and how they interact with each
other grammatically? And you just decide to spontaneously do that because that’s how
you’d interact with the world, or…? L: Yeah. G: That’s what you’re trying to convey? L: So that’s kind of a good example. But
all languages, regardless of whether they’re spoken or signed, also use gesture as part
of their communicative skillset. G: An important part of the communicative
skillset because it helps do things like solve puzzles? L: Yes, it helps you do all kinds of cognitive
things. If you are doing, particularly, spacial things – so if you’re talking about directions
or the relationships between objects – you tend to gesture more frequently. If you are
trying to solve – you know those rotation puzzles that they make you do in IQ tests,
and memory tests, and that kind of stuff? G: “Which of these figures is a rotation
of the one up here?” L: Yeah. G: And people will imaginarily gesture them? L: [Gestures holding a round object and turning
it different ways] If people gesture to kind of figure out the rotation, they tend to perform
better. What’s really cool is the gesture seems to activate that kind of space-y part
of the brain. And so if you tell people to do it for the first set of an experiment,
if you get them to do the same kind of activity five minutes later, they’ll still remember
– even if they’re not gesturing this time, their brain is more warmed up for the spatial
stuff. They’ll still do better the second time around as well. G: Oh, that’s really neat. L: Yeah. G: Yeah. L: There’s lots of great experiments. There’s
a really great summary paper that I’ll link to in the show notes about that and some other
experiments. G: And I think when kids are learning how
to do math, you can tell them to gesture, and count on their fingers, and stuff like
that? L: There is a lot of work in the teaching
space that gesture really helps with acquiring abstract, complex mathematical concepts. G: And I think it’s probably worth mentioning
here that we’re talking about the kinds of gestures you do at the same time as speech,
and they happen very much in parallel with speech. [Makes a continuous chop-like gesture
with her hand] So, as I’m saying each syllable, hey, look, I’m gesturing at the same time!
Now it broke. I started laughing. L: And the thing is, it’s true. What’s
really impressive about that is, if you think about – if [gestures the round object] you
do the rotation task, I’m starting to move my hand at the [gestures the round object]
“and you do” so that it’s ready for the rotation task bit, which means that my
brain knows where I want to get to, to make this gesture happen at the same time as “rotation
task.” So I’m starting to move before I’ve even said that bit. The gesture and
speech are really closely timed there, and we can really mess this up for people. Some
of the gesture experiments often sound a bit mean. G: Oh, no! L: But we can really mess this up for people
by putting headphones on and delaying their speech by just a fraction of a second. G: Okay. L: And if we delay the way someone speaks
so they hear their own voice back a few milliseconds afterwards, it actually just completely disrupts
their ability to gesture. G: This sounds terrible. L: It’s really, really mean. Another thing
that we can do is we can often make people more disfluent by preventing them from moving
their hands while they talk. G: Yeah, there’s this terrible, hilarious
experiment where they get people, and they put them in chairs, and they say, “Actually,
what we’re studying is the physiographical measurements of whether your skin is conducting
electricity,” and so they strap them down, and they put fake electrodes on their skin. L: And so they get them sitting here, and
then they ask them to tell a story, and it increases disfluency. It makes it harder to
– G: So they say more “um”’s and “ah”’s? L: They find it harder to remember words,
and it’s usually more likely to be nouns. So there’s something about gesturing that
helps us remain fluent. And I think it’s part of why there’s that public speaking
training thing that trains people to use their gestures more because there is a link between
fluently gesturing and fluently speaking. G: Or trains people to do big, simple, bold
gestures rather than putting your hand in pocket and jiggling with your coins, or tapping
you pen, or something that can be a more distracting gesture because it adds audio. Although, I
guess classically, you don’t really consider tapping a pen to be a gesture because you
have an object, but… L: There’s a whole kind of relationship
between what’s a gesture and what isn’t. G: There’s a whole taxonomy. But you can
substitute those kinds of repetitive movements for a proper gesture that makes you look more
sophisticated as a speaker? L: Sure. And it may actually help you speak
more fluently in more fluent sentences, which is a nice benefit as well. G: I also really like the bit about when kids
are learning words – so kids: They’re first learning words. And they go through
this one-word stage, and they learn things like “doggy” and “mama” and “papa”
and “water” and stuff like this, and then eventually they end up at this two-word stage.
Before that…? L: There’s this really nice period in between
where we have the – so gestures are kind of important for adults and in their ability
to speak fluently. But when we look at children, we also see that between the one-word phase
and the two-word phase is this phase that you may not even be paying attention to as
a parent, but as a gesture-researcher, I’m paying a lot of attention to, which is the
one-word plus one-gesture phase. And so you’ll often get things like [gestures straight,
extended arm with fingers in a continues grabbing motion] “want,” or… G: Or like [gestures the extended arm] “cookie”
or something like this? Like, “I want the cookie.” L: Yes, well, [points to her right] we’ve
got some over there. [Both gesture the extended arm toward the right] It’s “biscuit.” G: “Bikky”? L: [Gestures the extended arm] My child will
say “bikky” or “biscuit,” and they’ll do the grabbing, which means – it’s a
complex little bit of language there. They’re not just saying, [generally gestures to the
right with her hand] “Oh, there is a biscuit.” G: “Lo, biscuit!” L: They are saying, “I would like that biscuit”
or “I want biscuit.” G: “Give me that biscuit” or “Eat the
biscuit.” L: So they’re not saying, “Want biscuit,”
which would be a nice two-word phase, they’re saying – or “Give me biscuit” or something
– they’re saying, “biscuit,” and they’re doing this gesture. And the gesture acts like
the verb-y bit of that sentence. G: Or kind of classic [points center-right]
“Doggy!” L: Yes. G: Like, “Look! A dog!” L: [Generally gestures center-right with both
hands] “Mum, I am alerting you to the fact that there is a dog here,” which is a bit
beyond most 18-month-olds, so… G: If anyone could have it, it would be you. L: We have a really great, increasingly robust
set of research that shows that the one-word, one-gesture phase is a really great predictor
that two words are just around the corner! G: Oooh, that’s great. L: Yeah. G: Gesture is also influenced by the grammatical
structure of the language? L: Yes, so everyone does gesture across languages
and across cultures. There is some amount of – there’s a lot of stereotypes about
different cultures gesturing more or gesturing in particular ways. There is some evidence
that some of that is true. But, actually, there’s so much variation between individual
speakers in languages, and even for an individual speaker in different contexts, that a lot
of those generalisations are actually quite hard to really quite capture. And that’s
why I like gesture. There are so many more questions to ask, and we need to think of
ways to ask them, compared to the corpus analysis you can do for spoken language. G: And it’s a really new field, I think,
definitely facilitated by the fact that we have easy access to video now. And it’s
a lot easier to pause frame-by-frame than back when – even when video was film or
when there was not video at all, and to go through and annotate for all the different
gestures and these kinds of things. L: Even the idea of a large corpus to study
in gesture is excitingly new. And being able to go back and see what people did and being
able to share that with other people – it’s one thing to record it. It’s another thing
to be able to pop it up on YouTube or something like that for other people to see. G: Yeah, I mean, rather than mail VHS cassettes
around the world? Oh, this sounds really painful. L: It was a thing that we had to do, so… G: Or make line drawings so you can include
them in your paper, rather than just saying, “The gestures for this can all be found
at this nice URL.” L: Yeah, “Here’s a nice photographic still
of it, and you can actually see all the videos,” is a really exciting development in gesture. G: One of my favourite examples of gesture
mirroring the structure of language is from a talk that I saw by Goldin-Meadow a couple
years ago. She gives this example with English and Turkish, but it works in French as well.
And I actually speak French, so I’m gonna use French for the example. L: Yeah, that’s fine. I won’t make you
speak Turkish. G: I know, like, a couple words in Turkish,
but I couldn’t pronounce it with confidence so… So in English, if you ask English speakers
to gesture [gestures a rolling motion with one hand] “The ball is rolling down the
hill,” [Lauren gestures rolling motion with one finger moving toward her left] or even
if you make them – [gestures drawing a circular path in the air with one finger]. Or if you
make them do it without words alongside, you’ll often get something like [gestures a linear
path going from her upper left to lower right] [Lauren gestures a linear path going from
her upper left to lower right while indicating a rolling motion with one finger] “down,”
like “rolling down the hill.” And then if you get Turkish speakers to do the gesture,
or French speakers, in those languages, rather than have – so in English, the verb-part
is “roll.” And then we have and additional bit that’s “down.” Whereas, in French,
the verb part is “to descend,” “descendre” – “to go down.” And then you have to
add on, separately, the “rolling” bit. So the [both gesture the linear path] directional
gesture doesn’t necessarily have [gestures the linear, rolling path] “rolling down”
at the same time – if I got that right? L: You did get that right. That is correct.
Good work. G: And so people reflect this grammatical
structure difference in how they gesture about things doing these types of actions. L: And not just because I’m very well-trained,
and going along with what Gretchen said, that people weren’t being called attention to
for this, they would just watch – English speakers, and French speakers, or Turkish
speakers would watch exactly the same video of a nice little tomato rolling down a hill.
Or another study that’s very famous for this is Asli Özyürek and Sotaro Kita’s
work, where they made people watch a Looney Tunes cartoon. One of the characters goes
rolling across the screen. And, even though they watch exactly the same video, when they’re
telling the story, their gestures align with the grammatical structure of the language.
So a language like English where that way of rolling is really closely linked into the
verb, [gestures the linear, rolling path] that will all be integrated. And then for
Turkish or French, they’re more interested in the path, [gestures the linear path] so
that descent, and then [gestures a rolling motion with her finger] if there is rolling,
it’s indicated separately. And so you see that the grammar of the language shape those
particular gestures. G: Which I always thought was cool because
it’s not just “rolling” and “down.” All of the verbs of manner like “rolling”
and “jumping” and “bouncing” in English are verb-y. And I’d been like “Oh, yeah,
in French, you have to say, ‘to descend while jumping’ or ‘to descend while rolling’
or ‘to ascend while jumping.’” And even in English, if you want to say this, you have
to borrow these very French-y/Latin-y verbs to be able to do that. L: And we know that this is not just because
English speakers watch each other all the time and learn these gestures by habit, or
Turkish speakers watch each other all the time, because there was a follow-up study
by some of the original authors that looked at what happens with people who are blind
from birth. And even if you’ve never seen other people gesture – the fact that people
still gesture if they’re blind from birth is quite interesting in and of itself. But
the people who gestured, gestured pretty much the exact same way in terms of that [gestures
linear, rolling path] “rolling down the hill” or [gestures the linear path, and
then a rolling motion with her finger] “descending and rolling” than other people who speak
the language. So it seems to be something deeply embedded cognitively and not something
that we just learn by habit. G: Yeah, so it’s not like we learn by seeing
the gestures from other people, we learn it from the grammar of the language, and we gesture
that way spontaneously. L: Another nice piece of evidence for that
is some of those original authors also did a follow-up looking at what happens as Japanese
speakers learn English. G: Okay. L: And the studies so far indicate that they
do behave differently – they don’t behave exactly the same as English speakers, but
when they’re speaking English, they behave more like the English speakers than their
Japanese-speaking counterparts. G: Okay, so they’ve acquired something of
the gestural system as they acquire the language? L: Yeah, as they acquire the language it kind
of re-shapes how they conceptualise the movement as well when they re-tell those activities. G: I should volunteer for the French/English
version of the study. L: There are increasingly some studies about
what happens with your gesture in your second language, so you may be a participant in a
future study. G: All right, hit me up! I wanna do this. L: Excellent. G: We’re kind of heading into there already.
So gesture helps with thinking, and gesture also helps with communicating? L: Yes. G: It’s not just “Okay, English – I
gesture like an English speaker, and that’s just how I’m gonna gesture.” It’s also
that I can convey certain things with gestures? L: Yes, so we can modify our gestures the
way we modify our language to be helpful. And I think sometimes it’s good to think
about gesture as being good for us in our own thinking as well as being good for communication.
Some people try and make a claim that it’s more important for one or the other. I think
that takes all the fun out of it. G: It’s both. L: I think gestures are so great, they can
do both. G: As the gif goes [gestures a shrugging motion
with hands and arms turned upward] “Why not both?” L: [gestures the same] “Why not both?”
We see with communication – so maybe just to make you hypothesise, Gretchen… G: Okay? L: If we had someone speaking into a telephone
versus someone – they’re hands-free. We’ll give them their hands – someone speaking
into a telephone versus someone in a face-to-face conversation, who would you imagine gestures
more? G: Probably the face-to-face conversation. L: Yeah, because…? G: Because the other person can actually see
the gestures, and they’re useful. L: Yeah, we can increase the frequency. Even
if we’re speaking into a telephone versus speaking into a Dictaphone that we think no
one will ever listen to again, we’re even less likely, for the Dictaphone, to gesture
because we don’t think our communication is going to anyone, so we probably just don’t
try as a hard to communicate at all. G: What if you’re talking to yourself, and
you’re not being recorded at all, do you still gesture? L: Yeah, people a lot of times gesture to
themselves. G: I mean, I guess you would. But would you
gesture more because I can see myself when I’m talking to myself? L: We’ll have to run an experiment. G: We’ll have to run this study. L: So, yeah, we do gesture. We do tend to
gesture more if we’re in a face-to-face situation because we know that our gestures
are gonna be helpful to the other person. G: I really loved the follow-up study to this,
which was – or not necessarily by the same people, but a similar vein – where people
are cooperative or feeling un-cooperative. L: Ah, yeah, so this is – we gesture more
if we’re face-to-face with someone and our gestures are gonna be interpreted as useful.
But if we’re gesturing to someone competitively versus if we’re gesturing to someone who
we’re cooperating with – this was a study where they had people playing a game. They
taught one person the rules of the game. And then they said, “We’re gonna bring in
someone else.” And for half the participants they said, “This person is your collaborator.
If you work together, you’ll be able to earn more points and win.” G: It’s one of those games where you have
to set some objects in an area or something like this? Probably? L: Yeah. And then other half of the people,
they said, “We’re gonna bring someone in, and you’re gonna teach this person the
game, but then you’re gonna compete against each other in it.” And they found that people
actually made the same number of gestures. So it’s not just about the frequency. What
they found differed was the quality and size of the gestures. G: Oh, so you make bad gestures to people
you don’t like? L: You might still make all these gestures,
but communicatively, you make them clearer to the person that you want to help more. G: So instead of being like [leans over and
points to a spot on the table in front of her] “Put this right here” you’re like
[generally gestures toward the table with her hand, palm up] “Yeah, just put it over
there.” L: Yeah, that’s what they found. G: That’s so good. L: The communication – the fact that we’re
face-to-face – makes us want to help people more, but only if we want to be helpful to
them. G: I really wanted to know how they got people
to be mad. I thought they were told somebody – “Oh, this person’s been spreading
rumours about your behind your back,” they just told them it was a competition. That’s
very simple. L: They jut told them it was a good old competition,
so… Yeah, next time you’re teaching someone how to play a board game, make note of whether
you’re going to be playing with them or against them and see – G: Well, there are some games that are collaborative.
Like Pandemic’s collaborative, so maybe people are gonna be more cooperative in their
gestures, versus something like Risk where you’re also going around the world but trying
to compete. L: Yeah. G: We’ll have to do a study. L: Gestures are also useful communicatively
because they can give information that’s not in the spoken channel. For those rolling
gestures that we talked about before, some of the studies have gone back and looked at
– they’ve just kind of quickly counted whether people gestured in the same direction
as the original video that they watched. G: Okay. L: And people do this more than 90% of the
time. If you watch a character go from one side [hold up left hand] of the screen [holds
up right hand] to the other, you’ll represent those gestures [holds up left hand then right
hand] in the same direction that you saw them. G: In the same way, rather than spontaneously
flipping it for no reason? L: Yeah, and you don’t say, “It rolled
down the hill from the left top of the screen to the bottom right of the screen,” but
your interlocuter – to use the fancy word – the person you’re talking to – to
use the normal words – will also tend to remember that you gave that information, not
consciously necessarily, but it’s part of the information – you get a slightly different
set of information from gestures. G: Does this work the same way for all languages?
So, if not all languages have words for “left” and “right,” does it still do the same
thing? L: It really depends on the interactional
context. Again, I think this is a general thing we can say about gesture research is
that there is just so much that hasn’t been done. The work that has been done has been
done on a very small set of, usually European, languages. So for a lot of these things we
can often say, “That’s a great question. Hopefully, someone will do this work.” G: “Stay tuned for the next exciting three
decades in gesture research.” L: Basically. And it’s part of why I get
really excited about it. When my students ask questions, I say, “That is genuinely
a good question, and we’d love to know.” G: “No one has ever answered it yet.” L: “You might be the person who answers
this question or helps us move slightly forward towards it.” Because we have some very narrow
contexts in which we know different languages use different elements of gesture to help
increase communication. There’s this lovely paper by Joe Blythe, that I’ll also link
to along with everything else I’ve talked about so far, about a language called Murrinhpatha
in the Northern Territory of Australia. This is a language that has relatively few directional
words. G: Okay. L: But when you look at how people talk about
different locations, they use so many really rich directional gestures that in many ways,
if you were taking a very narrow frame of mind, you might say, “Well, this language
is missing all these words.” But if you take a broader few of language and gesture,
the language is completely capable of doing everything that English does, it just uses
gestures for some of the things that English will use spoken words for. G: So instead of saying, as much, “right”
and “left,” and “north” and “south,” and stuff like that, they’ll more likely
to use gestures for stuff like that? L: Yeah. G: And if people are retelling other people’s
stories or something, they’ll do it the same – that information is passed along? L: That information can be retained, yeah.
And there are some languages – so English is very – we remember things in terms of
“north” and “south,” usually – [Gretchen gives Lauren a look] in terms of “left”
and “right,” usually, definitely not in terms of “north” and “south.” G: [holds up hands to either side of herself]
You can see my confusing gesture there. L: For many people who have got themselves
completely lost while trying to read a map. But for English speakers we kind of remember
things as “left” or “right.” In other cultures – Murrinhpatha isn’t necessarily
one of the ones that’s been well-studied for this – but other languages of Australia
tend to do all their directions around “north,” “south,” “east,” and “west.” So
I’d be sitting to the “north” of you. You’re sitting to the “south” of me.
And then when you’re telling – G: My south foot and my north foot? L: Yeah, and so whenever you’re telling
a story, they’ll – instead of orienting it – not matter which direction I sit, I’m
always gonna do that [gestures a sweeping motion from her left to right] left to right
for “from you, to me.” Whereas, a speaker of one of these languages will always gesture
from south to north, regardless of what direction they’re sitting in. G: That’s so neat. L: Again, each time we gesture, we’re bringing
extra information into the discourse that we might not have from speech, but that is
also influenced by the culture and the language that we speak as well. G: So we’ve mentioned that a lot of people
have mostly studied European languages and gesture, but you have not. You have studied
other languages beyond Europe in gesture. L: Yes, so I started – after that initial,
like, “Wow! This field is really interesting,” the first thing I did was some work with English
speakers, a little paper looking at just how likely people are to pay attention to particular
gestures. So we’ve talked about the kinds of things you do to represent actions or movements
in the real world, but there are all kinds of other gestures as well. We haven’t talked
about pointing gestures very much. We haven’t talked about the very metaphoric gestures
that are not grounded in the physical world. We haven’t even talked about the gestures
that have really specific names and we all recognise like the “peace sign” or the
“thumbs up.” G: I mean, you teach a whole course on gesture,
so I think we could do “17 hours later…” L: Yes, so we’ve just focused on this set.
But I was really interested in whether people remembered emblems more – those “thumbs
up” and those “peace sign” ones – because they have really clear names. Or if people
pay attention to pointing because we often think of pointing as being kind of simple
– G: The prototypical gesture. L: – prototypical. So that was some early
work I did with English speakers that showed the kinds of things that we study in gesture
studies people seem to treat as different from then again other phenomena like facial
gestures, or the kinds of the things we do unintentionally like coughing, or those kinds
of things. So there’s these whole other things that we can do with our bodies that
we also have to think about in terms of these studies but aren’t always directly relevant.
So that was – G: That was the first gesture thing you did.
And you also went to Nepal and did a bunch of – I mean, you did stuff with language
in Nepal. Wrote a grammar or two. L: Yeah, so then, again, under the very good
influence of Barb Kelly, went and did fieldwork in Nepal. And I looked at the grammar and
spent some time focusing on that. And then I, finally, in the last few years, got to
come back to gesture and look what’s happening with gesture in those languages, which is
really exciting. G: What is happening with gesture? Not that
you can say it all now, but is there something that’s happening that’s – L: There’s so much to ask, and it’s great
that we have a really rich corpus of gesture recordings and general recordings that I can
now use to study gesture. G: So you’ve got a whole bunch of videos
you’re now poring through? L: Yes, and it’s a nice mix of – they
do things that are very specific to those stories that they’re telling, and they help
them tell the stories. But they’re also the kinds of gestures that we see cropping
up in other languages as well and part of what appears to be a set of things that humans
tend to be likely to do. One of these is [holds both hands up in front of her, palms facing
each other, then flicks the palms in towards her body] this gesture that gets made. It
can be used without speech. G: [Gestures the same] This kind of thing? L: It’s kind of a [gestures again] – without
speech, it’s a very prominent flicking up, a bit of a shrug, and it’s a like [gestures
again, with shrug] “What are you gonna do about it?” G: Okay. L: Fatalistic. But the fact that it can be
used as a question – it can just be a tiny flick of the wrist, where people, say, are
asking a question or they’re a bit unsure. Someone might be telling a story, and they’re
like [gestures again, but with right hand only] “What do I say next?” G: Is it always two-handed? Do you get one-handed
ones? L: No, it can be one-handed. There’s lots
of variation. And you see it across the larger – I look at it specifically how it’s used
by Syuba speakers, who speak a Tibetan language in Nepal. But we see this handshape used for
questions cropping up all over Southeast Asia and in India and Pakistan and Nepal. And we
also see it related to a lot of other – [both gesture a shrug, hands up, palms up] palms
up as question. I think a shrug is very familiar to English speakers. And so kind of looking
at the very specifics of how it’s done in this culture but thinking about it in terms
of the larger – G: The larger family of shrug gestures? L: Yeah. G: That’s super neat. L: Yeah, it’s really great. G: Like the “I have nothing in my hands,
and I’m gonna show off how empty my hands are” or something. L: Yeah, there’s a whole set of arguments
around why, across speakers of English and speakers of Syuba – it’s not a like a
historical, related-language thing. It just seems to be something about the way humans
think, and think about space, and how they use their hands. G: Because we’ve all got the same – mostly
the same – set of hands. L: Yeah. G: We can do very similar things with them. L: We all experience our little – we talk
about the “meat puppets” sometimes. The way that these meat puppets move through space
and time. We all kind of do the same thing, and we can draw on the same resources. G: That’s really neat. I think that’s
what makes gesture studies super interesting. It’s another way of looking at, not just
the stuff that you can articulate outside, through your throat, which you can’t always
see unless you get a little camera or something going. Gestures are very there, and you can
see what’s going on with them. L: You’ll probably notice them for the next
day, at least. You’ll be paying attention to what everyone is doing with their hands. G: Have fun with that. We’ve both been there.
It’s a fun position to be in. Don’t spy on people too hard, but maybe just a tiny
bit. [Music] L: For more Lingthusiasm, and links to everything
mentioned in this episode, go to lingthusiasm.com. You can listen to Lingthusiasm wherever you
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Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. I tweet and blog as Superlinguo. G: I can be found as @GretchenAMcC on Twitter,
my blog is AllThingsLinguistic.com. To listen to bonus episodes, and help keep the show
ad-free, go to patreon.com/lingthusiasm or follow the links in the description. Our patrons
allow us to do things like make this special video episode about gesture. Thanks everybody!
Can’t afford to pledge? That’s okay too. We also really appreciate if you can recommend
Lingthusiasm to anyone who needs a little more linguistics in their life. L: Lingthusiasm is created and produced by
Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne, our audio and video producer is Claire Gawne, our editorial
producers are A.E. Prevost and Sarah Dopierala, and our editorial manager is Emily Gref, our
music is “Ancient Cities” by The Triangles. G: Stay lingthusiastic! L: Stay lingthusiastic!

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