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

Month: May 2006 Page 1 of 3

Signs that Made a Life Worth Living

Deafblind people are not destined to lead a poor excuse for a real, happy life. Apparently, this is something that needs saying, at least in the Netherlands. Anne Baker said it to a doctor just in time to prevent stopping the life support of a deafblind infant.


In the Netherlands vierhandengebarentaal (four hands sign language) can be used by doofblinden next to NGT or other communication means. I once witnessed the preparations of lessons in this sign language. A group of deafblind people gathered to act as counterparts of hearing students. Obviously they were having a good time, enjoying each others company as a group of friends would. Their communication amongst each other and with the hearing teachers was not without difficulties but then again, so is mine with many people.

You can check some online movies.

Winx Club Fairy Tales

My daughter L. of four years old asked me for a Winx club magazine in the shop today. Apparently, they are all the rage at het school.

Will Bloom tell you who you are? Check the answers further down.

I started to object, then wavered under her enthusiasm. Luckily, when I opened the first pages I saw a great excuse to buy it: Fairy Bloom tests your personality based on your body language (in Dutch they even call it gebarentaal). It assumes that the way you fidget shows your deeply hidden sides. Is this Freudian psychobabble contemporary folk psychology? I hope it’s just a fairy tale.

Czech Gestures

Here are some Czech gestures and taboos. Czechs are said not to be extravagant gesturers (which is confirmed by the Canadian foreign affairs office) .

Prague: Not used to such lively world leaders?

The finger counting is similar to that of the French, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rules are flexible in the Czech republic as well. Hitchhikers be warned to keep your thumbs clearly up, since pointing at the ground refers to prostitution (?). I was also told that it’s rude to point at a person or even to wave a finger in the air.

And what do you think this biker signals? Best not done on a Czech road?

Pointing to (or tapping on) the forehead or temple is an interesting gesture to check cross-culturally. It is said to mean ‘you are stupid’ for Czechs. I know there are cases where it can mean ‘smart of you’ instead, or Understand. But perhaps the facial expression will control the negative or positive connotation of the reference to mental capacities. Or the locations forehead and temple might differentiate meaning?

Dutch Children of a Lesser God

Children of a Lesser God is a great story with solid human characters. It is also about the emancipation of the Deaf and the importance of sign language. Most people probably know the movie, but it was a theatre play first.

And now, there is a plan to produce it in Dutch and Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN, or Nederlandse Gebarentaal, NGT). But, must the leading Deaf lady Sarah be played by a Deaf lady? Joop van der Ende, the producer, would like to put a big name, Angela Schijf, on the billboards. Much to the dismay of the community, it appears. Fortunately (for her) Angela Schijf got pregnant, and one might think this would make the choice easier. Alas, the production is simply put off till the 2007-2008 season.

Trading Gestures for Money

News: Australian PM John Howard got caught making risky gestures on the tradefloor, oblivious to the gesture system around him.


Check this real trader gesturing in the crude oil pit, or some more pictures. I wonder, will such nice gesture systems, used by future and stock option traders on the trade floor, vanquish with the advance of computer trading?

In the Netherlands, this already happened. The last of the traders at Euronext to disappear behind a monitor were the option traders, in 2002. In the US, floor traders and specialists are apparently still very active and secretive gesturers. The SEC installed cameras to fight illegal prior knowledge transactions. Such transactions are often preceded by gestural communication between traders with inside knowledge.

It’s the Gestures that Get to You

Ever found yourself deeply moved as you watched other people? What was it that got to you? Was it what they said? Or what they did? Or was it the fact that behind the simple acts (speech or otherwise) you saw the depth of meaning being conveyed?

I will bet you a euro for a euro-dime that it’s the ‘higher meaning’ of a simple act that had the capacity to move you. It’s what we call a nice gesture, a gesture of good faith, a gesture of support‘, or a gesture of love, loyalty, forgiveness, etc.

Here’s a nice story of how a simple act of waving a raised finger to a song became a grand gesture of allegiance to a school, and how it will be sorely missed. It’s a lot like Hook ’em Horns for the University of Texas.

The Divine Power of Mudras

One of the planets most important system of gestures is that of Mudras, aka Hand Mudras, Mudrâs, (Sanskrit, मुद्रा, literally “seal”; 印相 inzō in Japanese, wikipedia), mudras of the Buddha, or Yoga for Your Hands.

Is this Yoga saying OK, or Asshole, or is it a Dharmacakra Mudra?

Each mudra symbolizes and invokes a divine power or deity. Monks use them in their meditation. You can use them in sculptures, dance, or wherever you require a divine reference. Rumour even has it that this science of hand and finger postures can help you to cure bodily ailments in a wonderful manner. I guess the mass of online info speaks for itself, and I barely have anything to add, not having practised the art nor witnessed it’s usage. This post may well be but an excuse to show this lovely, sexy photo (by Bootzie):

Is this lady trying to cure her ear ache with a Shunya mudra? Perhaps she has hearing problems?

Stuff: Katie Kiley made a 10-plate series of mudras, one of which, Invitation to Enlightenment, was awarded the Paul & Magaret Bertelson Prize and the Samuel F.B. Morse Medal. Mudra van de Week.

The Guru of Gestures

Here’s a weird video of a guy who shares his creative thoughts on some gestures. It is difficult to decide whether he’s irritating, funny or just fooling around.

Quiet or I’ll chop you in half?

In any case he nicely demonstrates the funny stuff that can happen to gestures. He invents a ‘weird’ gesture or at least seeks world-wide acceptance of it (check alternatives). He also adjusts the form of ‘ssshh, quiet’ and several others. And in-between he provides a constant stream of co-speech gestures. There is a self-destructive threat and some obscenities (reminding me of Matthew Richardson) near the end which are… eh, interesting… but I definitely like his scary dinosaur best of all.

10 Ways to Point Politely

Most of you will have heard your mothers tell you: “stop that! it’s rude to point“. Could it be one of those human universals? I have it confirmed from the Netherlands, France, England, United States, Turkey … (please let me know in the comments if it applies in your country)

That doesn’t mean it never happens, of course. But there are many ways in which people, who need to point out a person, will try to avoid being rude. They can:

  1. Use an open hand instead of just the index finger
  2. Supinate (turn upwards) the palm of the hand, though not in extrema
  3. Point beneath a person, not at him. In some games, for example basketball, the referee will point to the feet of the perpetrator of a foul (personal experience)
  4. Keep the hand close to your own body
  5. Point with a nod of your head (and flick your eyebrows)
  6. Point by directing your gaze and then protruding your lips which is in a ‘lower register’ (Laos, Wilkins)
  7. Point with your tongue in your cheek
  8. Shield the pointing finger with your other hand (Bra)
  9. Say ‘the guy at eleven o’clock’ instead
  10. If all else fails, smile and raise your eyebrows and try in every way to appear friendly, not accusing. Perhaps the person being pointed out will be glad of the attention

These two ladies made me suddenly very self-aware. 

Other stuff
Some things to avoid: Pointing with your feet (TUR, FR..) and pointing with objects (TUR..)
Ghana: taboo pointing by the left hand.
Review by D. Leavens of ‘Pointing: Where Language, Culture and Cognition Meet’
S. Kita ed. Blog by Jacob Eisenstein on culture & pointing.

Flemish Sign Language is ‘Official’

Another score for those who seek recognition of sign languages: The Flemish Sign Language (Vlaamse Gebarentaal, of VGT) was recently promoted to ‘official language’. Championne Helga Stevens (lovely VGT-videos) was instrumental as a Deaf member of the Flemish parliament. What the ‘official recognition’ means for the rights of VGT users and usage of VGT in the public domain remains to be seen (check Taalunie).

The Deaf are talking hard and fast. Will they turn the political tide in Europe?

What happened when NZSL was made official? At the very least it made the people in the Deaf Association of New Zealand very happy. Their brothers and sisters from the flemish Doof Actie Front also hosted a ‘cultural party’ to celebrate.

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