A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

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A Case of Co-Speech Gestures

A wonderfull new video on YouTube of two guys (programmers, it says) talking and ‘co-speech-gesturing’ (is that a verb?).

“Real programmers use sign language” (by ekabanov)

I think it is safe to assume that it is for real. Their whole behaviour looks too natural and wacky to be scripted.

I also think this is a great case study to spend some time on while discussing some of the ideas of David McNeill. Because what we have here is what his theories and ideas are concerned with. There is (of course) no sign language nor did I spot any other ‘emblematic gesture’ (those vulgar things you get fined or jailed for or the goofy ones that seem to be must-haves for ad campaigns). I also do not see any pantomime. No, this is the stuff they like in Chicago: Co-speech gestures. An episode full of deictics, beats, iconic and metaphoric gestures, right?

From the McNeill lab: A misconception has arisen about the nature of the gesture categories described in Hand and Mind, to wit, that they are mutually exclusive bins into which gestures should be dumped. In fact, pretty much any gesture is going to involve more than one category. Take a classic upward path gesture of the sort that many speakers produce when they describe the event of the cat climbing up the pipe in our cartoon stimulus. This gesture involves an iconic path-for-path mapping, but is also deictic, in that the gesture is made with respect to an origo –that is, it is situated within a deictic field. Even “simple” beats are often made in a particular location which the speaker has given further structure (e.g. by setting up an entity there and repeatedly referring to it in that spatial location). Metaphoric gestures are de facto iconic gestures, given that metaphor entails iconicity. The notion of a type, therefore, should be considered as a continuum –with a given gesture having more or less iconicity, metaphoricity, etc.

Wrong! Apparently the main problems of McNeill’s typology of gestures, that has sent many an engineer on a wild goose hunt for iconic gestures, are now even recognized at the source (McNeill, 1992). It is not mutually exclusive but rather an index of the functioning of a gesture (’as a beat’ - ‘through spatial reference (deictic)’ - ‘referring thorugh iconicity to something concrete’ - ‘referring via iconicity first to something concrete and second through metaphor to something abstract’). Good. I never liked ‘beats’ for example. I don’t think I ever saw one. But to say that it was a misconception… I vaguely recall an annotation procedure called the ‘beat filter’ that begs to differ.

Anyway, at least this clears up the discussions regarding ‘metaphoric gestures’ considerably [they are de facto also iconic, the metaphor functions on another level]. And it also clears the way for an annotation of this video. Any volunteers? Well, you would have to get a decent file of the movie instead of the YouTube flash stuff anyway, so let’s forget about it.

McNeill wrote a new book recently (2005) which is mostly about growth points. But before you read the summary by McNeill you might want to check Kendon’s brilliant poem called ‘The Growth Point‘, which he delivered at McNeill’s festen. I find it neatly captures my feelings towards growth points (and more that is beyond my grasp). I am at once awed, baffled, and stupefied when I read about growth points and catchments.

And so it goes. Again I tried to get it. Again I failed to learn anything from reading about growth points. One thing only. If David McNeill (or Susan Duncan) is right, then annotating gestures in episodes like this will be eternal hell :-) And without the speech it will not work. Thank God. I can go to bed with a clear conscience.

McNeill, D. (Fall 2005) Gesture and Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McNeill, D. (2000) (Ed.). Language and Gesture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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