A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

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

Category: Dutch Couleur Locale

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.

Mama Appelsap, Perception and Phonetics


What you might hear in an English song if you are a Dutch native speaker.

In my own research ambiguity in signs is a recurrent issue. Context can change the meaning of signs. And if you are unfamiliar with a sign you may try to project anything that comes to mind on the incoming signal. These songs are great examples of such projections: Dutch listeners who have trouble decyphering the lyrics supplant them with their own ‘Dutch phonetic interpretations’. DJ Timur collects such cases as ‘mama appelsap’ liedjes.

In a way this is quite similar to this ‘silly’ translation of the song ‘Torn’ (here) into makeshift ‘sign language’. Or perhaps that is only a vague association in my mind and not an actual similarity…

No wait, it wasn’t a translation from song to sign, but the other way around: from a signed news item to a silly voice over…

And even this thing does not really show a lot of similarity to the ‘mama appelsap’ phenomenon, because the ‘translater’ does not supplant the correct phonology (BSL) with the phonology of another language (e.g. English), but he just interprets the signs in the only way he can: through iconic strategies. In a way you could call that the ‘universal language of gesture’ but that would be a bit lame, for there wouldn’t really be anything like a proper phonology at work, I think (not being a real linguist I am unsure). It does show the inherent ambiguity in gestural signs quite nicely, doesn’t it? And how it can be quite funny to choose to ignore contextual clues or even supplant an improper context. Ambiguity and context. A lovely pair.

My apologies to the Deaf readers who cannot bear to see these videos: I think my audience knows enough about signed languages to know that it is not really signed language nor a proper translation.

Even Old Men Invent Sign Language

Do children learn language from rich (enough) input or do they invent it more or less on their own, driven by some innate program? That is a question that has kept great scientists busy, particularly Noam Chomsky.

And so with modern gesture research (post Chomsky) and modern sign language research (post Stokoe/Tervoort) the question became important which role gesture and emerging sign language skills plays in the development of language and cognition in hearing children and deaf children, see the work of Susan Goldin-Meadow and co-workers in particular.

A famous case is the discussion surrounding the documented invention of Nicaraguan Sign Language by successive generations of deaf children (by Judy Kegl and others).

But it appears that not only children can create language. A local newspaper here reported that the oldest man in the Netherlands (age 106) lost hearing and speech and invented a ‘sign language’ with his daughter in law to communicate.

Old Man Van der Vaart and his Children created a sign language
Adrianus van der Vaart and daughter-in-law Corry created a sign language (source: AD)

Did ‘Opa Arie’ take a dip in the fountain of youth?
Is there no such thing as a critical age of acquiring/inventing a language?
Or did the newspaper exaggerate?

Given the nature of newspapers it is likely that the AD exaggerates. Besides, any sort of gesture system is quickly called a ‘sign language’ in the Netherlands, and little distinction is made by the general public between ‘genuine Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT)’ and other ‘gebarentaal’.

Further research is needed urgently however, before it is too late. The potential ‘Wilnis Sign Language’ (Wilnis is an isolated village in the Netherlands with a remarkable population of elderly people with bad hearing) should be documented by the likes of Judy Kegl? Can anybody send in a linguist?

Nijntje Signs


Nijntje DVD in Nederlandse Gebarentaal (NGT)

There is a new DVD for kids created and sold bij Nederlands Gebarencentrum with translations or enactments of ten Nijntje stories in NGT.
It is the first of it’s kind in NGT, but similar to this ASL video of Click-clack Moo. In both cases the images of the children’s books animate the story. But in the Nijntje example the ‘storyteller’ dressed up like the Nijntje character. Funny though that may be it seems a bit beside the point. The voice-over in spoken Nijntje DVD’s does not represent the voice of Nijntje but is a storyteller. But here I go again with the sour comments. Stop it! It’s fun and good.

ps. It reminded me of Woof woof way, an ASL DVD where the storyteller dressed up as Paws, the dawg.

Een Mooi Gebaar 2007

The people with whom I am working in a project on Automatic Sign Language Recognition are organising a workshop. It is a national event, so the language is Dutch. We organised one workshop before, also called ‘Een Mooi Gebaar‘. The workshop is open to the public. All it takes is for you to register by sending an email to Anja van den Berg. Here is the program (pdf) and the full invitation in Dutch:

Geachte heer, geachte mevrouw, Hierbij willen we u graag uitnodigen voor de tweede workshop ‘Een Mooi Gebaar’, georganiseerd door de Nederlandse Stichting voor het Dove en Slechthorende Kind, de Technische Universiteit Delft en de Koninklijke Auris Groep. In deze tweede workshop zal het resultaat van het project ELo worden gepresenteerd. In dit project is gewerkt aan een Elektronische Leeromgeving voor het leren van gebarenschat door jonge dove en zwaar slechthorende kinderen.

Dit project is uitgevoerd in een samenwerkingsverband tussen NSDSK, de TU Delft en de Koninklijke Auris Groep en werd gesubsidieerd door het VSB fonds. In het project is een multimedia leeromgeving ontwikkeld om jonge dove en zwaar slechthorende kinderen effectief te helpen bij het leren van actieve en passieve gebarenschat. Het project heeft drie jaar gedraaid en we willen nu graag in de workshop de resultaten presenteren aan en bediscussiƫren met het werkveld (onderzoekers, onderwijzers, hulpverleners, etc., op het gebied van gebarentaalonderwijs aan dove en slechthorende kinderen).

Naast sprekers vanuit het project hebben we dr. Hans van Balkom (Viataal) bereid gevonden om iets te vertellen over een andere interactieve leeromgeving voor gehandicapte kinderen en dr. Els van der Kooij (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) over haar onderzoek naar variatie in de productie van gebaren. De dagvoorzitter is prof. Don Bouwhuis van de TU Eindhoven, afdeling Mens, Techniek en Interactie. De workshop wordt gehouden op vrijdagmiddag 2 november 2007 in collegezaal D van de faculteit EWI van de TU Delft, Mekelweg 4, 2626 CD in Delft. De voertaal is Nederlands. Voor een tolk NGT kan worden gezorgd. Wanneer u hiervan gebruik wilt maken, dan graag aangeven bij het aanmelden. Het programma van de workshop is bijgevoegd. Indien u op onze uitnodiging wilt ingaan, verzoeken we u een e-mail te sturen naar mevrouw Anja van den Berg met vermelding deelname workshop Een Mooi Gebaar 2007. Aan de workshop zijn geen kosten verbonden. Voorafgaand aan de workshop worden koffie en broodjes aangeboden.

Een verslag van de eerste workshop ‘Een Mooi Gebaar’ kunt u hier vinden op.

Wij hopen u graag vrijdag 2 november 2007 te mogen begroeten. Met vriendelijke groeten, Dr. Emile Hendriks, TU Delft Dr. Connie Fortgens, Koninklijke Auris Groep Dr. Gerard Spaai, NSDSK.

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