A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

Various personal interests and public info, gesture, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Month: May 2006 Page 2 of 3

Russian Icons

Peirce, a semiotician, wrote about signs (of any sort) as being either symbol, index or icon. How does this relate to Russian icon paintings, such as this one:

I saw many such paintings when I was in Russia (Moscow region), where I also had a look at Russian gestures. It appears like the gestures of the figures are very much prescribed for each icon. The blessing with two fingers is most common. But there are many, which I hope in due time to have a better look at. Unfortunately, that’s it for now, but feel free to comment…

Jailed for a Gesture

Here are some remarkable legal cases involving gestures. They show, hopefully, that gestures are taken seriously, and that there is need to defend them against unaware courtiers.

Is that a threat by Rove?

News on 7Online, may ’06: A man in the US was put behind bars because ‘he made sexual gestures at a group of children’.

Metro NL, may ’04: 16 year old Goran P. hears a demand for six years for his part in the murder of Maja Bradaric (blog archive). The ministry of justice said Goran had prior knowledge, could have walked away, but instead encouraged Goran M. with gestures ‘to do it’. (He got five years in jail)

2001: 30 days for threatening gesture on flight from Israel to US

Fined for Gesture:
US lady and Qatari exchange the finger in Qatar – Brando threatening jury in US or gesturing ‘guilty‘ – Skolnick fined for finger in Brazil – Koeman for ‘blind’ gesture in Portuguese football match – Artest for obscenity in US basketball – SA Cricketer Gibbs for faking injury in UK – Russian Tennisplayer Zvereva at Wimbledon for two fingers high – Info on the forbidden Hitler Salute

Court Gestures

How serious do we take gestures? Science tells us gestures are intended to communicate and perceived as such (Melinger & Levelt 2004, pdf). Common sense tells us the same. Yet, gesture researchers like Susan Goldin-Meadow feel it necessary to point out that more attention should be paid to them, for example in the court room.

Trials: rich in gesture rituals?

Goldin-Meadow warns (Hearing Gesture, 2003) against the use of gestures to lead a witness. She fears gestures can be used by skilled lawyers as an additional line of communication (to witness or jury) that doesn’t show up in the minutes. Gestures are not transcribed like spoken words. Although she has a point that gestures effect legal interviews, I do think gestures are monitored to prevent an unwanted ‘sub-rosa conversation’. To use her own example, it would surprise me if no protest followed when a lawyer suggests to a child through gesture that a person had a beard (trying to lead the witness).

Do words get more attention than gestures?

In the Netherlands, and France as well, legal interviews with children (e.g. as witness) are conducted in closed sessions which are videotaped. In that way, all their communicative behaviour is put on record.

My general impression is that we, the people, pay good attention to gestures, both in the court room and outside it. Perhaps gestures were underrated by certain scholars for a while. As for the importance of gestures in society, or in court, I see no challengers, only some fiery champions.

For some background check this paper Re-membering Law: Legal Gesture in the Past, Present And Future by Law Prof BJ Hibbitts. And here are examples of legal cases involving gestures. Still not tired of reading? Chew on section 3, book XI, of Quintilian: Institutio Oratoria. If you are a lawyer, you may still learn from classic Roman rhetorics how to deliver a speech with appropriate gesturing.

Universal Sign Language in Gloucester

Today on BCC News “Street cleaners in Gloucester have been learning greetings in Japanese and sign language for the deaf to help make visitors feel more welcome.” It’s obviously useful to learn a few Japanese phrases. Dutch tourists are often asked: “you from Germany, yes?” If one responds “No, the Netherlands”, what do you get back? “Nederland Kikkerland”, “Kijken, kijken, niet kopen”, “Hasjiesh, hasjiesh”, etc. I have the souvenirs to prove it.

But what on earth will a street cleaner sign to a Japanese tourist? My first guess would be ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’. Even such formal greetings differ a lot in the sign languages of the world:
NGT: Hello and Good morning.
ASL: Hello (which is also goodbye?) and here’s one for Morning, an open invitation to misinterpretations…

Alternatively, the people will be taught to pay attention to their gesturing. To not be shy to greet somebody with a gesture, or to wave goodbye or make an occasional bow Japan-style. That would be good. But it wouldn’t be ‘sign language for the deaf’. Luckily most Japanese tourist have their hearing, and hopefully enough good sense to let the good people in Gloucester ‘save face’.

GestureTek on XBOX 360

In the news: the XBOX 360 will be sold including gesture recognition, made by GestureTek. Here some response by geeks & gamers. It appears to be following Sony Playstation Eye-Toy developments, perhaps going a step further?

Even my dad played Eye-Toy

GestureTek is probably the most succesful commercial player in gesture recognition. They are also going to develop interactive learning/gaming environments for kids together with Hasbro. Now, why don’t they get into touch with some sign language people? It would be great to get such a player interested in sign language recognition. Or is their tek too rough to handle such delicate gestures? Can they only catch the big motions?

There is this curious bit of news and a video on Gizmodo about 2 camera’s being used? GestPoint is a specific bit of GestureTek that is used, for example in the Boijmans van Beuningen, where it appears to be part of the ‘Digital Depot‘.

The Butthole is not OK

There is a story about how Americans gesture ‘OK’ in Brazil which is mistaken for an obscenity, see also in this column: Are You Rude? Four Accidental Goofs, which features many classic gesture mix-up stories.

I find it hard to believe, and I never hear first-hand evidence of actual misunderstandings. I think people easily exaggerate or dramatize these ‘funny gesture stories’. For the Brazilian ‘butthole’ gesture the orientation of the hand (supinated to show the ring in front) is clearly important. But I guess that if you want to misread someone, you may grab your chances with it. And, of course, if you’re a sloppy ‘OK’ signer, like these two, it will happen without a doubt.

I checked it with a Brazilian colleague here at the University. She said it can happen if people don’t know anything about Americans, and if they want to see it that way. The way it is held (supinated) is definately required. A similar opinion is held by this American expat here.

To add more subtlety: Adam Kendon (2004, Gesture) wrote an entire section about a family of gestures which use the same ‘ring’ hand shape, none of which are obscene. They are considered ‘precision grip’ gestures. Most refer in some way to exactness, as in ‘just right’, ‘perfecto’, or ‘pay precise attention now’. Differences in orientation or accompanying movement separate the different uses.

Update: There is a reward out for evidence of a real misunderstaning.

Brazilian Gestures

Brazil appears to be a country with many conventional gestures. The figa is used there to ward off bad luck. The horns (with index and middle finger) are used jokingly mostly.

(Source Maria-Brazil)

Some really nice gestures are Papo-furado (‘bullshit’), Delicious, Don’t Know, and the best one is Speed, which actually takes a lot of practice to get a good snap of the flapping index finger…
I had a colleague from Brazil check the site, and it was all good apart from Thief (unknown) and Saco Cheio (‘my balls are full’, which is sooner said than gestured).

Some will tell you about how Americans in Brazil gesture ‘OK’ which is then mistaken for the ‘Butthole’ sign (I find it hard to believe much of it, nor did B. think it would happen easily).

Warning! You’re Boring!

Thanks to JL for this story on a device from MIT that warns you if you’re boring. It is supposed to pick up emotions of people you talk to. They made it for autists.

But would the concept ‘boring someone’ have a clear meaning to an autist? Boring someone refers to a complex relational status: The autist talks to you, and you to the autist. Your conversation is not purely functional but supposed to entertain. You sufficiently entertain the autist, presumably, but he is not sufficiently entertaining you. The autist risks losing your interest if he does not become more entertaining? Or he could end the conversation and set you free. Both solutions, entertaining and detaching, require good interactive skills.

What’s an autist to do, I wonder? A sudden attempt to be more entertaining can appear odd and forced. A sudden detachment can also appear strange. The alarm itself, which the autist must notice and check, can cause embarrassment. The autist can be embarrassed for having to trust a device (mounted on his glasses) instead of his own judgement. You can feel embarrassed because you could not hide being bored. You may also feel uncertain on how to behave to please the machine’s emotion recognition. What does it think of as boring? What are you to do? What to avoid?

MIT tells us that the accuracy is 90% for actors, and 64% for ordinary people. Presumably both under lab conditions and not in the real world. That is so bad that additional very strange things will happen. The alarms will be unreliable. Now, imagine this conversation:

You: Hi, nice weather, isn’t it?
Autist: I don’t like sun.
You: It might rain later.
Autist: I like rain… wait, sorry, I am boring you, yes?
You: Well…eh…
Autist: I know a joke.
You: Okay…
Autist: Well, bye!

And all you really wanted was to spend some quiet time with you’re autistic relative, keeping up a simple conversation, while your mind wandered elsewhere (what to cook tonight, perhaps).

Rap Gestures going Global

Some of the fastest spreading gestures on Earth are typical Rap gestures. Gestures matter to a Rap artist and his public, although this ‘news-story‘ is laying it on a bit thick (it’s a fake news-item).

This is DJ Besho conquering the hearts of the younger generation with Afghan Rap. For more examples check here, here, and here two kids mimicking them (although one is making the mano cornuto…).

Dutch rappers like Ali B, gesture much in the same way as DJ Besho (although the upturned V could simply be obscene as well). And these two swiss rappers are also copy-cats, but lack some finesse (is that an obscenity adopted from Brazil? Or what? And the other the ‘W’-sign from the US West Coast rappers like 2Pac or Ice Cube?). It’s almost as if the Rap copy-cats are mixing the original Rap gestures with local or adopted obscenities. I sincerely doubt that original Rap stars do that.

Ps. There’s a guy at the Uni of Twente (nl) who’s making a virtual Rap dancer. He’s done the Kris-Kros move. I guess he won’t include obscenities.

Inventing a ‘Sorry’ gesture

The ANWB (a traffic organization) took it upon itself to invite readers to come up with gestures to say ‘sorry’ to other drivers in traffic. This born-dead initiative actually was reported in the Kampioen of May 2006 (their semi-glossy), with no less than 5 suggestions:

  • The V-for-victory sign (but then the V would stand for ‘Verontschuldiging’…)
  • SORRY in Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT); a fist rubbed in small circles on the chest…
  • Spreading the fingers in front of the eyes (as in ‘could you see this through the fingers, please’, which is a Dutch saying)
  • Tapping the chest 3 times an saying ‘Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa’…
  • Raising a hand with 3 fingers spread and stretched (index, middle, ring) towards the face, forming a capital E, as in Excuse, Excusez, Excuus, Entschuldigung…

Apart from just being silly proposals, this list is quite wonderful. It shows how little most people are aware of the way our gestures evolve. They aren’t invented by a committee and spread to the masses. A new gesture, like a new word, starts appearing in everyday language, first used in a small group then gaining popularity. Often, it will have been adopted from other cultures, it’s meaning perhaps slightly deformed.

Adding to the silliness of the story: It’s a rerun of this halfbaked-idea (and one more). And like the first responder, I will add that at least in the Netherlands there is a generally used sign for sorry: Hand lightly up, palm facing recipient, shrug shoulders, give sheepish smile, mouth ‘sorry’. Not unlike this one from South Africa. I wonder, could it even be universal?

There’s a nice one from the back of Aussie Brett Lee, trying to appease an angry cricket opponent after hurling a nasty ball at him:

Update: 3VO, the traffic safety agency that masterminded the election, now hass a poll online, here’s the results.

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