O clever ‘He’s streetwise.’ When gestures become quotable
The case of the clever gesture
Among urban black South Africans in the province of Gauteng, quotable gestures are a prominent feature of everyday communication. Most notable is a gesture commonly glossed as clever meaning ‘streetwise’ and ‘city slick.’ An analysis of the clever gesture in everyday communicative situations shows that it conveys a variety of meanings and functions related to the core paradigmatic meaning of ‘seeing’ and the core sociointeractional function of acceptance and inclusion. ‘Seeing’ is an important cultural value in black urban society particularly in relation to being clever. ‘Seeing’ is also the central characteristic of modern urban African identity in contrast to the ‘non-seeing’ rural, tribal, and primitive African. The clever gesture is a focused expression of this key social division within South African society. Consideration of the clever gesture in relation to its social role and the gestural repertoire suggests that key cultural concerns determine both quotable status and semantico-grammatical nature.
Keywords: quotable gestures, emblems, gestural repertoire, semantics, South Africa, communicative function, semiotics
Published online: 11 July 2002
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