Various enterprises and personal interests, such as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI), gesture studies, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Category: Playing with Gestures Page 1 of 2

Van Persie’s Nice Gesture Combi Mistaken for a Fascist Salute?

An interesting story in the news (here) and on YouTube today about gestures made by Robin van Persie. Best to watch the video first:

The video containing the gesture (for as long as it stays online…)

Apparently some people interpreted his gesture combination as the Roman/Fascist/Hitler greeting. He himself twittered in response:

Persie_Official Robin van Persie: It has been brought to my attention of some ridiculous allegations concerning my celebration of one of my goals yesterday. It is totally ludicrous to suggest that. My action of brushing my shoulder and pointing to my fans could be construed as anything else but of a showing of joy and celebration. To suggest this meant anything to the contrary is insulting and absolutely absurd as nothing else came into my mind.”

Apart from his grammar, I support his explanation of the gestures. “Brushing your shoulders” is indeed a Dutch gesture performed after performing great feats to indicate “that only ruffled my suit a bit” or “that hardly cost any effort”. Often accompanied with a grin or smirk and brash composure (as displayed here as well). And in this case he uses a salute to direct the gesture towards the audience, which I would interpret as an additional “and I do it all for you”.

This is however also a wonderful example of the importance of context, the perception of intentions, and the sensitivities of observers when it comes to interpreting the meaning of gestures. Someone who is suspicious of Van Persie (for whatever reason) or otherwise prone to ascribe ill intentions to him, may actually look at these gestures, in this situation, quite differently than most people. In this case however it would mean they think extremely lowly of him and of the Arsenal fans. Their line of thinking would run roughly as follows (and just to be certain: I do not agree with it): “I hate fascists/nazi’s. Van Persie may well a secret fascist/nazi. There are more like him in the Arsenal audience that he wishes to salute. He is using the pretext of cheering after a goal to make a (badly) camouflaged fascist salute. But he won’t get away with it, because I saw what I saw.” Well, I pity the one who thinks like that, sorry.

Just to end on a positive note: congrats to Van Persie for a wonderful performance. My hat’s off to you. You indeed make it look so easy sometimes.

Adam Hills about some BSL Signs

Here is a funny video with Adam Hills, a comedian, about the funny side of a couple of BSL signs. It is a nice illustration of ambiguity, iconicity, distinctiveness and of how people can play with signs, gestures and language.

Brilliantly funny ‘body language’ instructional tape

Here is a must-see video for anyone who is interested in gestures and body language and has a sense of humour. Be warned, it may force you to rethink some of your ideas about the conventionality of body language and the extent to which interpreting it can be taught (should you be a communications trainer).

In any case, it’s good for a laugh 🙂


Here is a collection of the sort of body language instruction that the above video is a parody of (with the exception of the fifth which again is a parody):

Torn and other ‘signed’ song translations by mime Johann Lippowitz

Here is a nice video of a performance by Johann Lippowitz of his ‘signed’ version of Torn. It is really a classic performance of which many movies have been shown earlier. Only this time, Natalie Imbruglia joins him halfway, and the two add some nice touches to the routine.

Johann Lippowitz (real name David Armand) performs his mime version of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’.
Yes, we all know that he does the guitar slide wrong. Get over it. It’s still really funny.

Without a doubt, his quasi-signing has pissed off many a serious singing-to-signing translator, because, needless to say, it is not any real sign language that he uses. So, is he making a mockery out of signing? Could be. Is that a bad thing? Only if you think that ASL or any other sign language needs to be put on a pedestal and glorified. In general, as any politician will tell you, being the butt of a joke is something to take in full stride. Just laugh along with all the rest, and if you can, play along and take the joke to a next level. Mind you, I am not saying it is weird to take offense at the joke if you are Deaf and proud of your sign language. But if you can’t beat the joke, join the laughers. It is the only effective strategy really.

It turns out, after a bt of ‘tubing’, that Johann Lippowitz (real name David Armand), has done quite a few songs in this way:

Brian Wilson’s Arm Cross Story

In the news today, a story about the trademark gesture of a baseball pitcher named Brian Wilson.

This is apparently Brian Wilsons Arm Cross

This is apparently Brian Wilson's Arm Cross (source)

And from another angle:

Wilsons Arm Cross again

Wilson's Arm Cross again (source)

Extra Baggs posted a nice interview with Wilson about the meaning behind his gesture, and it is apparently an odd mixture of something about his christian religiousness, something about his late father, and something about a brand of clothing. Wilson’s explanation is rather lengthy and not entirely fit to read just before lunch (for those with strong appetites: here), so here are the most important bits:

“One More Round is a clothing line [for martial arts fighters]. It has to do with the drive and determination that certain fighters have when their backs are against the wall… And to me, that relates to what I do on the mound. In the ninth inning, your back is against the wall …  one of the main things I do … is the crossing of the arms… on a T-shirt I wear underneath my jersey when I pitch. That’s just respecting the fighters. ”

“And also … when I cross my arms, I have my left hand in the fist and my right hand goes underneath pointing with my (index) finger … this finger represents one man. I’m that one person … The fist represents the power of the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost … So here’s the strength of God and the strength of man. And without him, I am nothing … But when I cross, I now have this one person with the strength of Christ, and I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me …

So until here, there is little about his dad in this explanation but elsewhere Wilson says that the gesture is also some sort of tribute to his late father. Well, why not? Let’s accept that he added one more element of meaning to what is after all his own personally invented gesture. And a marvellous gesture example it is, I must say. In itself, Wilson’s gesture creation is a nice tribute to humans’ ability to create symbols with highly complex meanings and communicate these to others.

Now, the story in the news is not so much about the gesture itself, but about another baseball player, named Casey Blake, who apparently got a little frustrated and derided the gesture by creating a mock version of it, which Wilson took as an insult. Teammates of Wilson caught Blake on photo, but I haven’t been able to dig it up on the net (anyone?).

Some commentators side with Wilson’s indignation, while others think he overreacts and shows weakness. Personally, I’ll add that I find Wilson is flaunting his personal beliefs in the aftermath of an emotionally charged game, at a moment in which he might better show himself a gracious winner. It has an air of rubbing it in, of “see, God was on my side”, or even worse, “look at me being all strong and victorious, it was all through God you know, you should try it”. Slightly distasteful. Can’t he just kiss a little cross or something if he wants to thank God or something?

Opera Fool’s Day Face Gestures

Check out the hilarious joke from the folks at Opera Labs. I will let it speak for itself.

Future President’s Gesture?

Here is a post that’s good for a laugh (if you’re not in love with US politicians) on Geenstijl, a popular Dutch news blog. Unfortunately for the majority of readers, the dodgy jokes are in Dutch. Which is why I’ll translate them to English. Who knows, maybe the jokes will end up back in the US?

Hillary Gesture Story Hi, I’m Hill

Hillary Gesture Story You know, the wife of Bill

Hillary Gesture Story Now, I’m looking for something bigger

Hillary Gesture Story Yeah right, about this thick?

Hillary Gesture Story I’ve only got this

Hillary Gesture Story It’s gotta be about this length

Hillary Gesture Story Take me, take me!

Hillary Gesture Story Shit! F*ck. Never mind.

For those of you who can not believe I am lowering myself to such a cheap shot: The story exemplifies the limits of our ability to see just about anything in a gesture. Even though speech may be required to interpret gestures, the liberties taken here are clearly too much.

Gesture Wellformedness

I am running an experiment on the acceptability of variation in sign language. One of the things that touch upon this matter is sign wellformedness, which supposes a certain sign language phonology with rules that tell whether a sign is wellformed or not. I am not done thinking that one over but it did get me thinking: is there such a thing a gesture wellformedness.

According to these guys, there definitely is a way to do a gesture and a way that you don’t do it. Listen to the comments for details 🙂

Context Changes Gesture Perception

Here is a movie of one very powerful bionic finger:

The question I want to put forward is: How much of the time is this guy actually gesturing? My guess would be that he does not really give anyone or anything the finger anywhere. He holds up his bionic finger for inspection, he talks to it as he watches it, he is using it as a scanner, fighting with in different ways, but he never actually flips the bird. He doesn’t really make the gesture. Therefore, besides being funny, this video neatly demonstrates how context changes the perception of (insulting) gestures.

Iconicity in Gestures and Sign Language

Let us assume for a moment that Mueller was right: Iconicity in Gestures is achieved by hands that act, embody, model and draw. We further agree with her that achieving iconicity presupposes certain knowledge in the observer (and in the producer for that matter). But it is general knowledge about techniques such as modeling. It does not require spcific conventional knowledge of symbols. What we have is then a handful of strategies that people can apply to try to produce (or understand) gestures.

We can then ask the question: To what extent can people rely on the strategies of gestural iconicity to understand and produce gestures or sign language? Two examples came to my mind that I would like to share. The first is about applying the rules of gestural iconicity to reading sign language (jokingly) if you do not know it. The second example is of a applying the rules of gestural iconicity to create a fantasy signed interpretation of the lyrics of Torn (also a well known joke).

My first impression upon revisiting these movies was that the rules of gestural iconicity are at work here. It seems to be a good way of looking at what these people are doing. The joke interpretation of signing is almost entirely built from guesses at meaning through applying iconicity rules (needless to say, not very succesfully). But at the same time it does not seem to be enough. One thing especially appears to be missing. Much of the pantomime in Torn is of displaying emotions with the face and the body. Although you could see that as enacting, in the sense of imitating, it seems to be a slightly different matter.

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