Forms and meanings of a compound enactment
The shrug is a widely shared gesture ensemble with several different components. These include: lifting the shoulders; rotating the forearms outwards with extended fingers to a “palm up” position; with mouth firmly closed, pulling the lips downwards (the “mouth shrug”), which may or may not be combined with raising the eyebrows and tilting the head to one side. It comprises a rich yet consistent network of forms (a single component or a combination of components can index the whole enactment). These components, together or in various combinations, are shown to express incapacity, powerlessness, indetermination, indifference, obviousness which, we suggest, are unified by a common semantic theme of personal disengagement. Since the shrug expresses pragmatic meanings and its formational and semantic core remains stable across different contexts and speakers, the shrug also qualifies as a recurrent gesture. Based on empirical evidence gathered from a videotaped corpus of dyadic interactions between native speakers of British English, this study proposes a qualitative-yet-systematic method to provide a unified account of shrugging.
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