• Ling-I: Gesture and Human Nature

    (Andrew Nevins, UCL & Naomi Francis, University of Oslo)

    T/Th 10:00-11:00 am (NY time)

    In Sessions one and two, we discuss the intellectual history of studies of gesture prior to the 20th century, with focus on three important authors. First is Di Jorio, whose 19th century very careful documentation of Neapolitan gestures (and ‘gesture dialects’) sought to build a specific historical link with archaelogical fragments of a Greek past. The second is Mallery, whose post-Civil war career led him to studies of the Plains Indians lingua franca Sign Language that inspired scholars worldwide about the possibility of gesture as a universal and/or original human language. Thirdly, we discuss the work of David Efron, whose quantitative and cinematic work in the 1940s provided a refutation of ‘racial science’ (aka racist science) suggesting that gestures were inherently biological characteristics of each race, instead demonstrating the converging gestures of Italian and Jewish populations in melting pot post-immigration Brooklyn, and the early steps towards categorizing gesture types into classes with  ‘emblematic’ vs ‘ideographics’ usages. These early studies, some of which have fallen into academic amnesia today, are important in the intersection between gesture study and the sociopolitical contexts that motivate them.

    In sessions three and four, we skip ahead to a more recent line of research: investigating parallels between gesture and prosody. More specifically, we explore the hypothesis that gesture and variations in pitch, amplitude, and duration in the vocal signal form a single audiovisual system. In the first of these sessions we will compare the rhythmic and prominence-marking properties of language use across modalities. In the second, we will consider the contributions of audiovisual prosody to meaning in face-to-face conversation.