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

Month: November 2006 Page 1 of 2

Pope’s Every Act Perceived as a Gesture

The Pope is visiting Turkey. I put together a fairly random collection of newsflashes from my newsreader to illustrate how his acts have an enormous communicative value. Everything he does is perceived as a gesture of some kind (which is perhaps the most common use of the word gesture, see examples here, here and more). And former cardinal Ratzinger seems to have gained considerable oratory skills, for he is using his gestural power to the max. He knows people will pick it up so he continuously produces small acts like shaking hands, reaching out, waving, smiling, saying nice things, refraining from criticism, and even waving a flag. The last one is hardly a little act, though, but of enormous symbolic value by itself.

Yahoo News

Pope’s trip to Turkey starts on conciliatory note ANKARA (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI began a delicate mission to Turkey, trading conciliatory gestures with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as both sought to calm the storm unleashed when the pontiff appeared to link Islam to violence.


Pope makes further Muslim-Christian gesture EFES, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey on Wednesday praised the conciliatory tone of Pope Benedict during his visit to the predominantly Muslim country and his apparent new support for Ankara’s bid to join the European Union.

Turks.US Daily News

Gestures of Goodwill from the Pope in Izmir, Turkey. [..] Pope Benedict XVI visited the Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, which is considered sacred by Christians, and presided over mass [..] and waved the Turkish flag given to him at the end the mass. Upon his arrival in Ankara, the pope had hinted that the Vatican supported Turkey’s membership to the European Union, and such gestures of goodwill continued during the mass.

Gulf Times (Qatar)

Benedict XVI makes further Muslim-Christian gestures EFES, Turkey: Turkey yesterday praised the conciliatory tone of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the predominantly Muslim country and his apparent new support for Ankara’s bid to join the European Union. 

Sunday Times (ZA)

Pope “wins Turkey’s heart” ISTANBUL – A picture of Pope Benedict XVI waving a Turkish flag was on the front pages of nearly all Turkish newspapers as the pontiff won more praise for his conciliatory gestures during his first trip to a Muslim country.

Catholic Online

Benedict XVI’s ‘Gesture of Love’ ROME, NOV. 30, 2006 (Zenit) – The exchange of visits between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is a “gesture of love,” says Father Giovanni Cereti, Professor of Ecumenical Theology

NFL quarterback Vick gives finger to fans

After a game of American Football, the losing quarterback Michael Vick gave his booing fans the finger. Such sporting gestures occur frequently (check, check, check) as does verbal abuse in such heated moments.

What did those nasty fans say to that poor man? (source)

But, boy-o-boy, did he get grilled over it. Every news site in the US seemed to copy the item. He did apologize quickly and quite sincerely, and that also got published everywhere. So here I am too, compelled to add Vick’s finger to my collection of famous gestures. The Oxford Press says: “A frustrated Michael Vick shouted at fans and then issued an obscene gesture, first with one hand, then the other”. And they add that Vick could be fined by the NFL for excessive use of profane language or obscene gestures: $5,000 for a first offense.

Update 30 Nov ’06: Vick is fined $10.000 by the NFL and donates another $10.000. And although everyone rushes to say it was out of character for Michael Vick, ABC News adds that “Vick’s younger brother, Marcus, made a similar gesture to fans at West Virginia who were heckling him during a 2005 college game”. As far as I can tell it is never out of character for proud, hotblooded athletes. (Check out other fines and even jail sentences for gestures).

Look at me, I am thinking

Here is a nice Garfield comic (always a good source for gestures, see here and here). It illustrates how a bit of fidgeting (thoughtful lip-touching) can be turned into a pose. Suddenly Jon displays a gesture of thoughtfulness instead of actually being lost in thought.


Journals for Gesture and Sign Language Research

For my own research, I am considering where to submit papers about the perception of sign language and other gestures. I previously submitted a paper to the journal Gesture, but other journals might be good as well or even better. Let us consider a few candidates: Gesture, SLS, TAP, JEP:HPP, LCP, SLL, JML, and more

Gesture is a multidisciplinary journal about all sorts of gestures, including sign language. There are often long papers, sometimes about experimental work, and sometimes theoretical. It is supported by the ISGS. Main editors are Adam Kendon and Cornelia Muller.

Gesture publishes articles reporting original research, as well as survey and review articles, on all aspects of gesture. The journal aims to stimulate and facilitate scholarly communication between the different disciplines within which work on gesture is conducted. For this reason papers written in the spirit of cooperation between disciplines are especially encouraged. 

Sign Language Studies seems a general forum for a large variety of sign language studies, with a special place for research regarding Deaf culture and communities (see also the Gallaudet University home of editor David F. Armstrong). It seems like the editorial board of SLS has some overlap with the board of Gesture. They both list for example Adam Kendon, David McNeill and Sherman Wilcox. :

Sign Language Studies publishes a wide range of original scholarly articles and essays relevant to signed languages and signing communities. The journal provides a forum for the dissemination of important ideas and opinions concerning these languages and the communities who use them. Topics of interest include linguistics, anthropology, semiotics, Deaf culture, and Deaf history and literature. While the journal is especially interested in work concerning Deaf communities, signed languages used by hearing people are also of interest. 

The ACM Transactions on Applied Perception (ACM TAP) provides a platform for those who try to bridge the gap between human perception and computer vision work (Editors. Erik Reinhard, Heinrich H. Bülthoff)

TAP: A current trend in the field of computer science is the assimilation of results from other disciplines. In particular, there is a move towards the application of breakthroughs from the field of experimental psychology. The purpose of ACM Transactions on Applied Perception is to further the development of inter-disciplinary research that crosses the boundaries between perception and computer science disciplines such as graphics, vision, acoustics and haptics. The scope of this journal includes applications and algorithms in any of these fields that incorporate elements of perception. 

Language and Cognitive Processes has a history of publishing work on both sign language and gesture. The editorial board includes people with expertise in gestures (e.g. Levelt) and sign language (e.g. Grosjean).

Language and Cognitive Processes provides an international forum for the publication of theoretical and experimental research into the mental processes and representations involved in language use. The psychological study of language has attracted increasing research interest over the past three decades, and Language and Cognitive Processes provides a common focus for this enterprise. The journal is also interested in fostering the relationship between cognitive theoretical accounts of language and its neural bases, and for this reason will consider research on the cognitive neuroscience of language which is rooted in cognitive theory. 

The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance has previously published studies on sign language, and it might be a good option:

The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance publishes studies on perception, control of action, perceptual aspects of language processing, and related cognitive processes. All sensory modalities and motor systems are within its purview (more detailed

I briefly considered Sign Language & Linguistics, but they seem to recruit sign language research for general linguistic topics (which the title already suggested, I must confess). That is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just not my cup of tea.

Sign Language & Linguistics aims to increase our understanding of language by providing an academic forum for researchers to discuss sign languages in the larger context of natural language, crosslinguistically and crossmodally. SLL presents studies that apply existing theoretical insights to sign language in order to further our understanding of SL; it investigates and expands our knowledge of grammar based on the study of SL and it specifically addresses the effect of modality (signed vs. spoken) on the structure of grammar. 

The Journal of Memory and Language has published papers on gestures (and speech), I am not sure of sign language research (ed. K. Bock):

Articles in the Journal of Memory and Language contribute to the formulation of scientific issues and theories in the areas of memory, language comprehension and production, and cognitive processes. Special emphasis is given to research articles that provide new theoretical insights based on a carefully laid empirical foundation. 

The American Annals of the Deaf covers a range of topics (mostly life sciences but some technology applications) concerning being Deaf and sign language. (ed. D. Moores, board).

[it] is a professional journal dedicated to quality in education and related services for deaf or hard of hearing children and adults. First published in 1847, the Annals is the oldest and most widely read English-language journal dealing with deafness and the education of deaf persons. The Annals is the official organ of the Council of American Instructors of the Deaf (CAID) and of the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD) and is directed and administered by a Joint Annals Administrative Committee made up of members of the executive committees of both of these organizations. 

The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education consists mainly of research on Deaf people. There is nothing on technology but perceptual studies are not excluded (Ed. M. Marschark, board)

[it] is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal integrating and coordinating basic and applied research relating to individuals who are deaf, including cultural, developmental, linguistic, and educational topics. 

Slightly farther away on the horizon, but possible for specific subjects (all have a history of publishing work on gesture or sign language):

Which other journals should I consider? (Honestly, if you have suggestions, please leave a comment). Update 13 feb ’07: Impact factors may be important as well, though it seems a bit hard to find them. Update 11 sep ’07: The TU Delft, where I work, keeps a the following administration on publications:

De TU Delft hanteert een peerlijst, waarop wetenschappelijke tijdschriften staan genoemd, die niet in de CWTS-lijst voorkomen. Publicaties in zo’n tijdschrift van de peerlijst worden met 4 outputpunten beloond door de BTA-commissie (mits minimaal vier pagina’s). Publicaties in een tijdschrift dat noch in de CWTS-lijst, noch in de peerlijst staat worden met slechts 1 punt beloond, of ze nu wetenschappelijk zijn of niet. 

I checked the CWTS-lijst and the Peerlijst for the journals listed above: Gesture, SLS, TAP, LCP, JEP:HPP, SLL, JML, AAOTD, JDSDL The CWTS-list contains the following journals of interest: Language and Cognitive Processes Journal of Experimental Psychology-Human Perception and Performance Journal of Memory and Language Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education American Annals of The Deaf Human Movement Science Mind & Language, Language & Communication, Journal of Child Language, Perception, Cognitive Science, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Linguistics, European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, Trends In Cognitive Sciences, Research On Language and Social Interaction Computer Speech and Language Journal of Visual Languages and Computing Language Learning & Technology Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A-Human Experimental Psychology The ‘peerlijst’ contains only one items of potential interest: Visible language. Perhaps I can suggest that those journals which are not on the CWTS-list can be put on the peerlijst. These are (in order of relevance for my own research): Gesture, Sign Language Studies, ACM Transactions on Applied Perception, Sign Language Linguistics, Semiotica, Sign Systems Studies, Perception and Motor Skills, International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting.

Did my nephew just fidget or gesture?

Sometimes science is what happens while you are making research plans. One of my favorite topics for research plans is what makes a gesture a gesture. I ask myself if gestures are always clearly visible? And if so, is that universally true or culture-specific? What is the influence of context? Which circumstances increase the chance that a movement will be seen as a gesture? What role does the sensitivity of onlookers play in their own perception but also in the production of gesturers? To my surprise my 1 year old nephew Marco, visiting the Dutch family with his Italian mama and Dutch papa, answered my unspoken questions. What did he do? He twisted his finger in his ear during lunch with a big smile. Although you may find his action a bit uncivilized let me rush to his defence. At first I just saw his action, and barely noticed it. I had discarded it as just fidgeting. But then his mother remarked ‘ah, you like it, yes?’. Suddenly it dawned on me. It was a cheek screw! But little Marco did not make it exactly right. He screwed his ear instead of his cheek. His mom told me later this happens often.

The cheek screw meaning 'Good', as portrayed in Desmond Morris: Gestures (1979)
What does this mean for a boy from Palermo? (source Gestures, their origins and distribution. Desmond Morris, 1979)

I was forced to go over my own perception of this event. For me, the cheek screw is a gesture (meaning ‘Good’ or praise) that I only knew from reading. The Dutch do not use it. Perhaps I would have seen it immediately if I was Italian? In all likelyhood, Marco’s cheek screw is part of little rituals of communication with his mom and dad. He is learning, practising and his family is alert and responsive to his behaviour. My own involvement, as an uncle at a distance, is much smaller, though I try to interact with him as much as possible.

Let us return to the questions at the beginning with this case in mind to see the answers it may give. This cheek screw gesture was not clearly visible. It is a culture-specific gesture which may explain partly my inability to see it at first. The context of eating and Marco’s interaction with his mom made me see the gesture for what it was: an reasonably succesful attempt at a cheek screw to indicate he liked the food. The circumstances of his age and stage of development of his communication skills work to increase my sensitivity (I pay more attention) and tolerance (I try to understand what he intends to communicate). That is true for my interaction with my own children as well. Does this mean that seeing a gesture in a movement always requires the right context and the right cultural knowledge? No, it is just one case of a small kid growing up, a cheek screw, a mother and an uncle. Or in other words, for fans of human universals: It may well be that all little kids in all cultures learn to make gestures in ways that are so similar (universal) that when they are a bit older their distant uncles will always see their nephews’ intention to communicate, even if their exact meaning may escape those uncles. At the same time little kids gesturing can rely on several things. They operate within their parents’ culture. Mom and dad pay attention to their communicative attempts and are tolerant about mistakes. Furthermore they usually understand the needs of the situation.

From kids it is a small step to adults. We all may rely on exactly the same things. A gesture for a cultural insider who is paying attention can be made with just a subtle movement. If the context is clear the gesture will be perceived without problems. Conversely, if the context is ambiguous (not a shared understanding), two people from different cultures may well have more difficulties. In a way, strangers should act towards each other as a parent to a child: Use whatever clues you can to understand the needs of the situation, pay attention to communicative attempts and tolerate mistakes. Such goodwill gestures will surely be appreciated.

Balkenende on & AnnieS

To track news of local Deaf communities and sign language check and AnnieS. Both are up-to-date, usefull and well designed (nice and clean). has an rss-feed, which AnnieS lacks. However, for links to other organisations see Dovenschap.

Now, AnnieS is also producing and broadcasting TV items quite regularly. And they do it very well I must say. They use .wvx files for Windows media player, which most people have anyway. The image and sound quality is good. Everything is subtitled and/or interpreted. Did you know we have elections coming up? Well if you are Deaf and considering voting, check out their interview with Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende (video).

Or check the interview with the chairman of Dovenschap, Benny Elferink, for voting counsel. Nice to know AnnieS TV is there if you ever just want to check some footage of signed conversations in NGT (or SLN).

What is PM Balkenende signing to you? (source) also posts about the events surrounding Balkenende. They have a very active group of responders (comments).

Gestural Differences: Iceland vs. Italy

If you are interested in gestural differences between countries and cultures, you may want to read: Conversation Patterns in Icelandic and Italian People: Similarities and Differences in Rhythm and Accommodation. by: Alessia AGLIATI, Antonietta VESCOVO, Luigi ANOLLI. (pdf) It is a chapter in a book in a series. Are these two people Italian or Icelandic? (source). Agliati et al. (2005) analysed Icelandic and Italian styles of interaction in conversations. In particular they studied temporal management of conversation and gestures. In short, big cultural differences were found for both aspects. As some would expect: Italians often used wider and more open gestures than Icelanders. Conversely, Icelandic participants normally used closed and smaller gestures. Italian participants were also fidgeting more. Then there were some specific gestures used only by Italians (bag-hand) or Icelanders participants (pianist). Italians and Icelanders also handle things like turntaking and interrupting eachother differently.

Eon Reality licenses Microsoft Touchlight

Some YouTube movies barely need introduction:

Touchlight is a technology that Eon Reality licensed from Microsoft that permits gesture based control of EON’s 3D visualizations“.

The whole thing smells of Minority Report. You stand and gesture majestically in front of a glass display with layered holographic projection. Yet no gloves are required. The three cameras allow the capture of depth. We are also using a stereocamera at the moment to get better results with our sign language recognition. It is hard to say at this point how much better that will work, but it seems to contribute to better tracking of the hands (less occlusions).

The combination of gesturing and working with the surface seems promising. But during gesturing it seems the hands need to be near to the surface and movements are always oriented to the surface. That means many subtle gestural patterns one finds in natural gestures are not exploited. Handshape changes are not used. Orientation of the movement towards the face or body is not used. But of course you can play with the relation between the hands and the projection surface.

All in all, nice developments and very nice movie. [tags]gesture recognition, multi-touch, holographic projection[/tags]

Dissecting Mick Bates’ finger in Welsh Assembly

As civilized human beings (which I can tell from my statistics) you may be getting a little annoyed by my frequent posts about fingers in the news. One might say: “Why trumpet the trivial?”. Well, I promise to keep the vulgarity down. But it is hard to ignore gestures hitting the headlines, as public insults caught on camera always do. And often interpreting the events is interesting as well. Reporters will exaggerate the story to make news; the offender defends himself against wrong interpretations and control the damage to his image; political (or other) rivals try to take advantage.

The chairman commands ‘order’, in response (?) Mr Bates jokingly gives a quick finger (source).

The same scramble for news the truth now occurs in the case of Mick Bates who raised his finger in the Welsh Assembly. It happened on Tuesday. A helpful soul put a clip on YouTube Wednesday, and it quickly featured on Guy News. The BCC reported Bates’ apology and defense that same day. And today (Thursday) I am blogging my bit about it. Ah, the wonders of the internet.

Mr Bates stated: “My gesture was not directed at the Presiding Officer, for whom I have enormous respect and affection. […] I was showing Rhodri Glyn Thomas which finger he should use to operate the assembly’s modern push button voting system [..] If anyone has taken offence, then of course I apologise for that.” 

Of course, these words sparked more comments and again different interpretations (was he saying this in earnest or in jest?). Let us assume for a while he said it in a real attempt to defend himself. Bates’ choice of defence is interesting. He challenges two things at once: the perception that the gesture was addressed to Lord Elis-Thomas and that it was in response to the call for order. As far as I can tell he did look at the chairman (though I do not know where Glyn Thomas sits) while making the gesture in precisely the way one does to address it. And the timing is certainly within limits that people may see the gesture as a response to the call for action. It is however unclear which other events are taking place to which it could be connected. I perceive the event as a man wanting to show his disrespect for the chairman, but only to his colleagues. He appears afraid for repercussions so he does it quickly and glances away almost immediately. He continues laughing to camouflage the message of the gesture. His defense is as ambivalent as the gesture. It can be taken as a joke (in which case the insult stands even more strongly) or it can be taken seriously (in which case one would have to have been there to tell if it is plausible). The apology for any offense caused seems a plea of guilt, or rather a failed attempt to allow Elis-Thomas to ignore the gesture without losing face. What is Elis-Thomas to do? He can ignore it and accept the loss of face. Or he can rely on the way it seems to be to himself and his advisors and demand a direct apology that acknowledges the disrespect shown to him. If he was a Prince in Italy I could predict his response. But who knows the ways of the Welsh? Perhaps they are able to see politics as a joke?

Sign Chi Do: Bastard Child of Tai Chi and ASL

Before you read further, watch this video of Sign Chi Do. (Or at least a couple of seconds of the 8-minute exercise-mantra-prayer-song).

Sign-Chi-Do commercial package

In the words of the ‘inventors’: “SignChiDo is an exercise form created and designed by a medical physician. It is a unique approach to stress management through breathing, thought and movement. SignChiDo harmonizes the universal language of sign with movement resulting in “Moving Language”. SignChiDo differs from other forms of exercise meditation in that thinking about the word movements that are being performed constantly stimulates the mind. This cognitive function when combined with movement, has been found to enhance memory, concentration, spiritual awareness and create an overall sense of well being.” The DVD and book cost $35. Is this commercial package the real core of Sign Chi Do?

Daniel Green, singer and ASL signer, reviews the matter thoroughly on his weblog. He debunks the notion that proper ASL is used in this method. And he remarks that no Deaf ASL users are involved in this scheme. I will add that the claims made with regard to medical benefit seem entirely built of thin air. Sure enough any sort of movement can help keep you healthy. That does not mean that this method specifically helps to “lower blood pressure, decrease risk for heart disease, reduce irritable bowel symptoms, enhance memory by increasing blood flow to the brain, help control diabetes and improve fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue symptoms” (from their about section).


But then again, there will always be gullible rich people who feel unhealthy and want to pay money to someone to help them become healthy again. It is only a matter of who sells them the most promising bottle of miracle potion. For all they care they already feel better just spending the money.

(Oh no! Wait, they are waving a unreadable support letter from some Maronite bishop. I guess it must be OK then)

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