Multimodal language use in Savosavo: Refusing, excluding and negating with speech and gesture

Jana Bressem, Nicole Stein and Claudia Wegener

Abstract

Departing from a short overview on pragmatic gestures specialized for the expression of refusal and negation, the article presents first results of a study on those gestures in Savosavo, a Papuan language spoken in the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific. The paper focuses on two partly conventionalized gestures (sweeping and holding away) and shows that speakers of Savosavo use the gestures in a very similar way as speakers of German, English or French, for example. The article shows how a linguistic and semiotic analysis might serve to uncover proto-morpho-semantic structures in a manual mode of communication and contributes to a better understanding of the conventional nature and cross-linguistic distribution of gestures. Moreover, by examining partly conventionalized gestures in a small, little known and endangered language, it presents a particular approach to the analysis of multimodality in the field of language documentation.

Keywords:
Table of contents

1.Introduction

In recent years, gesture research has seen a growing interest in the study of gestures that show a stable form-meaning relation, are partly conventionalized and culturally shared and often fulfill pragmatic functions. Such gestures have been referred to, for instance, as ‘interactive gestures’ (Bavelas Beavin et al. 1992Bavelas Beavin, Janet, Nicole Chovil, Douglas A. Lawrie, and Allan Wade 1992 “Interactive Gestures.” Discourse Processes 15: 469–489. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), ‘pragmatic gestures’ (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Streeck 2005Streeck, Jürgen 2005 “Pragmatic Aspects of Gesture.” In International Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics, edited by Jacob Mey, 275–299. Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar) or ‘speech handling gestures’ (Streeck 2005Streeck, Jürgen 2005 “Pragmatic Aspects of Gesture.” In International Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics, edited by Jacob Mey, 275–299. Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar, 2009 2009Gesturecraft: The Manu-facture of Meaning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) by various scholars. Another recently introduced new term for this specific type of gestures is ‘recurrent gestures’ because they are used “repeatedly in different contexts and [their] formational and semantic core remains stable across different contexts and speakers” (Ladewig 2011 2011 “Putting the Cyclic Gesture on a Cognitive Basis.” CogniTextes 6. https://​cognitextes​-revues​.org​/406Google Scholar, 2). Depending on their context-of-use, recurrent gestures show differences in form, which may correlate with variants of meaning and function (Ladewig 2010Ladewig, Silva H. 2010 “Beschreiben, suchen und auffordern – Varianten einer rekurrenten Geste.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 89–111. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2014a 2014a “Recurrent gestures.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Ellen Fricke, Alan Cienki, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1558–1574. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar; Müller 2004Müller, Cornelia 2004 “Forms and Uses of The Palm Up Open Hand. A Case of a Gesture Family?” In Semantics and Pragmatics of Everyday Gestures, ed. by Cornelia Müller, and Roland Posner, 233–256. Berlin: Weidler Verlag.Google Scholar, 2010 2010 “Wie Gesten bedeuten. Eine kognitiv-linguistische und sequenzanalytische Perspektive.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 37–68. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, to appear to appear. “How Recurrent Gestures Mean: Conventionalized Contexts-Of-Use and Embodied Motivation.” In Gesture Pragmatics ed. by Elisabeth Wehling and Eve Sweetser Special issue of Gesture ; Neumann 2004Neumann, Ranghild 2004 “The Conventionalization of The Ring Gesture in German Discourse.” In The Semantics and Pragmatics of Everyday Gestures, ed. by Cornelia Müller, and Roland Posner, 217–223. Berlin: Weidler Verlag.Google Scholar; Seyfeddinipur 2006Seyfeddinipur, Mandana 2006 “Disfluency: Interrupting Speech and Gesture.” Ph.D. Thesis, University Nijmegen.Google Scholar; Teßendorf 2014Teßendorf, Sedinha 2014 “Pragmatic And Metaphoric Gestures – Combining Functional With Cognitive Approaches in the Analysis of the "Brushing Aside Gesture".” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbook of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1540–1558. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar).11.For further work along similar lines see Brookes 2004Brookes, Heather 2004 “A Repertoire of South African Quotable Gestures.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 14 (2): 186–224. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2005 2005 “What Gestures Do: Some Communicative Functions of Quotable Gestures in Conversations Among Black Urban South Africans.” Journal of Pragmatics 32: 2044–2085. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Calbris 1990Calbris, Geneviève 1990The Semiotics of French Gestures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar, 2003 2003 “From Cutting an Object to a Clear Cut Analysis. Gesture as the Representation of a Preconceptual Schema Linking Concrete Actions to Abstract Notions.” Gesture 3 (1): 19–46. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Fricke 2010 2010 “Phonaestheme, Kinaestheme und multimodale Grammatik: Wie Artikulationen zu Typen werden, die bedeuten können.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 70–88. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2014 2014 “Kinesthemes: Morphological Complexity in Co-speech Gestures.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1618–1629. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar; Harrison 2009Harrison, Simon 2009 “Grammar, Gesture, and Cognition: The Case of Negation in English.” Ph.D.Thesis, Université Michel de Montaigne, Bourdeaux 3.Google Scholar; Kendon 1995 1995 “Gestures as Illocutionary and Discourse Structure Markers in Southern Italian Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 23: 247–279. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar. Characteristics of form in these gestures are based on instrumental actions, from which particular aspects are mapped onto the structure of communicative or interactive actions. Accordingly, recurrent gestures may take over pragmatic function and either “display the communicative act of the speaker and act upon speech as ‘speech-performatives’” or they may ‘aim at a regulation of the behavior of others as ‘performatives’” (Teßendorf 2014Teßendorf, Sedinha 2014 “Pragmatic And Metaphoric Gestures – Combining Functional With Cognitive Approaches in the Analysis of the "Brushing Aside Gesture".” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbook of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1540–1558. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar, 1544). In addition, recurrent gestures may serve referential function in depicting concrete or abstract aspects of the topic being addressed in speech. Although recurrent gestures are not as easily translatable into words or phrases as emblems or quotable gestures, for instance, the fixed form-meaning relation that holds stable across a wide range of communicative contexts along with their mostly pragmatic functions suggest that recurrent gestures undergo processes of conventionalization. It is assumed that only a limited number of recurrent gestures with pragmatic function in languages exist, which can be said to make up a possible repertoire widely shared by speakers in a particular cultural or social group (Kendon 1995 1995 “Gestures as Illocutionary and Discourse Structure Markers in Southern Italian Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 23: 247–279. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Moreover, recurrent gestures may build so-called gesture families. Gesture families are “groupings of gestural expressions that have in common one or more kinesic or formational characteristics” and “share in a common semantic theme” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 227).

Examples of recurrent gestures include the (palm up) open hand gestures used for asking questions or offering something (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Müller 2004Müller, Cornelia 2004 “Forms and Uses of The Palm Up Open Hand. A Case of a Gesture Family?” In Semantics and Pragmatics of Everyday Gestures, ed. by Cornelia Müller, and Roland Posner, 233–256. Berlin: Weidler Verlag.Google Scholar) or the ring gesture marking the topic-comment structure of the utterance (Neumann 2004Neumann, Ranghild 2004 “The Conventionalization of The Ring Gesture in German Discourse.” In The Semantics and Pragmatics of Everyday Gestures, ed. by Cornelia Müller, and Roland Posner, 217–223. Berlin: Weidler Verlag.Google Scholar). The cyclic gesture, indicating word searches or requesting others to continue with their ongoing actions (Ladewig 2011 2011 “Putting the Cyclic Gesture on a Cognitive Basis.” CogniTextes 6. https://​cognitextes​-revues​.org​/406Google Scholar, 2014a 2014a “Recurrent gestures.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Ellen Fricke, Alan Cienki, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1558–1574. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar), is another common example of a recurrent gesture.

In recent studies, gestures specialized on the expression of refusal and negation have received considerable attention. Kendon (2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 248–264) described these gestures as part of his account of how gestures are able to form gesture families. He identified two members of the family of the Open Hand Prone (OHP), which are used by speakers of English and Italian “in contexts where something is being denied, negated, interrupted, or stopped” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 248). The first are gestures in which the palm is oriented downwards horizontally and moved laterally (Open Hand Prone ZP). The second are gestures in which the palm is oriented vertically and held or moved away from the gesturer (Open Hand Prone VP).22.ZP = ‘horizontal palm’, VP = ‘vertical palm’. In the first case, Open Hand Prone ZP gestures are based on actions “of cutting something through, knocking something away or sweeping away irregularities on a surface” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 263). They have in common the semantic theme of “interrupting, suspending or stopping a line of action” and may serve various functions, including negation (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 262–263). In the second case, Open Hand Prone VP gestures, the speaker uses the gesture to establish a barrier, push back, or hold back things moving towards him- or herself, or to hold something down (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 262). The gesture indicates the speaker’s “intent to stop a line of action” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 262). Depending on the position of the hands, the gesture specifies the kind of action to be stopped: (1) close to the body: stopping one’s own action, (2) in front of the body: stopping the action of the speaker and the interlocutor, (3) movement towards the interlocutor: stopping the action of the interlocutor (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 262). For the Open Hand Prone family, Kendon suggests that its members may in principle serve as forms of negation, “if there is something presupposed in relation to which they act” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 263). Although the two members of the Open Hand Prone family share a common semantic theme (stopping or interrupting a line of action that is in progress), Kendon assumes them to be semiotically different. By depicting a schematic act of pushing or holding something away, “Vertical Palm gestures constitute actions that the actor willfully performs. Horizontal Palm gestures are actions that “describe something that has happened, is happening or could happen”, that is, they rather “represent some event or circumstance of which [the speaker] is not the author” (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 263, emphasis in original).

Taking Kendon’s analysis as the starting point, Bressem and Müller (2014a)Bressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar present an analysis of gestures of German speakers that express negation, refusal, and negative assessment: the family of away gestures. The away family includes four gesture families (sweeping away, holding away, throwing away and brushing away) that are tied together by a common formational and semantic core. Members of the family do not share a particular hand shape and/or orientation, as in Kendon’s Open Hand Prone family, but a particular underlying effect of action: All members of the away family are characterized by movements away from the center of the speaker’s personal space to the periphery. Furthermore, the family is grounded in everyday actions that remove or hold things away from the speaker. The space around the body is either cleared of annoying or otherwise unwanted objects that are close-by, or approaching objects are hindered from entering the space around the body. The creation of absence is the shared underlying effect of these actions and semanticized in the away gesture family: Its members convey that something that was present has been moved away – or something wanting to intrude has been or is being kept away. As a result, the family is bound together by semantic themes of rejection, refusal, negative assessment, and negation, which are directly derived from the semantics of the underlying action scheme.

In sweeping away gestures (cf. Kendon’s Open Hand Prone ZP), formerly existing present (imaginary/abstract) objects or obstacles are completely swept away or are excluded from the body space, thus creating an empty plane around the speaker’s body. With this gesture, topics of talk (e.g., arguments, beliefs, or ideas) are energetically and completely rejected. They are (metaphorically) swept away from the center to the periphery, manually negated and thus excluded from the conversation. In brushing away gestures, the body space is also treated as if cleared of unwanted arguments, beliefs or ideas by rapidly brushing them away from the body. The removal of these metaphorical objects from the body space by means of this gesture goes along with a negative assessment of a topic of talk as annoying (cf. Teßendorf 2014Teßendorf, Sedinha 2014 “Pragmatic And Metaphoric Gestures – Combining Functional With Cognitive Approaches in the Analysis of the "Brushing Aside Gesture".” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbook of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1540–1558. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar). Throwing away gestures are used to get rid of, remove, and dismiss topics of talk by (metaphorically) throwing them away from the body. Use of this gesture simultaneously marks the dismissed topics as annoying, uninteresting and void. Finally, by holding away gestures (cf. Kendon’s Open Hand Prone VP) the speaker acts as if to protect one’s personal space by holding or pushing away unwanted objects or persons. The gesture is used metaphorically to reject topics of talk, to stop arguments, beliefs, or ideas from intruding into the realm of shared conversation, and to stop the continuation of unwanted topics. It qualifies the rejected topics as unwanted and undesirable. (See Bressem and Müller (2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar, b 2014b “A Repertoire of Recurrent Gestures of German.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communcation Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1575–1591. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar) for detailed information on the “family of away gestures”.)

Several other studies also discuss these four gestures as recurrent in a range of different Indo-European languages and identify similar gestural forms with comparable meanings and pragmatic functions: They function as speech-performatives when rejecting, negating, or evaluating topics of talk and they fulfill performative function when appeasing or stopping the other. The gestures thus seem to constitute a culturally shared class of gestures used for similar functions in a range of Indo-European languages (see Table 1).

Table 1.Overview of studies on gestures of refusal, rejection, and negation
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English ‘OHPZP’ – some line of action is being suspended, interrupted or cut off, negation (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 255–264); ‘PDacross’ – negation (Harrison (2009Harrison, Simon 2009 “Grammar, Gesture, and Cognition: The Case of Negation in English.” Ph.D.Thesis, Université Michel de Montaigne, Bourdeaux 3.Google Scholar: 82ff; 2010 2010 “Evidence for Node and Scope of Negation in Coverbal Gesture.” Gesture 10 (1): 29–51. CrossrefGoogle Scholar); negation (Streeck 2009 2009Gesturecraft: The Manu-facture of Meaning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 194ff); ‘moving things aside’ – marking topic of talk as unrelated (Streeck 2009 2009Gesturecraft: The Manu-facture of Meaning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 192) ‘OHPVP’ – halt a current line of action, to stop (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 248–255); ‘PVraise’ – refusal, interruptions (self and others), positive evaluation negation; ‘PVoscillate’ – refusal, negation, apology ‘PVhorizontal’ – positive evaluation apology (Harrison 2009Harrison, Simon 2009 “Grammar, Gesture, and Cognition: The Case of Negation in English.” Ph.D.Thesis, Université Michel de Montaigne, Bourdeaux 3.Google Scholar: 133ff); throwing back, rejecting, repulsion, stopping, refusal, objection, and negation (Streeck 2009 2009Gesturecraft: The Manu-facture of Meaning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 193)
French ‘the total cut’ – (absolute) negation and (total) refusal (Calbris 2003 2003 “From Cutting an Object to a Clear Cut Analysis. Gesture as the Representation of a Preconceptual Schema Linking Concrete Actions to Abstract Notions.” Gesture 3 (1): 19–46. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 35ff, see also Calbris 1990Calbris, Geneviève 1990The Semiotics of French Gestures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar, 2011Calbris, Genevieve 2011Elements of Meaning in Gesture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) ‘active refusal’ – rejection, (Calbris 2011Calbris, Genevieve 2011Elements of Meaning in Gesture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 200ff) ‘tossing it to the ground’ – rejection (Calbris 2011Calbris, Genevieve 2011Elements of Meaning in Gesture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 200ff)
German ‘sweeping away’ – negation (Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar: 1596f) ‘holding away’ – refusal, stop, rejection (Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar: 1597f) ‘brushing away’ – negative assessment (Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar: 1598f) ‘throwing away’ – negative assessment (Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar: 1599)
Italian ‘OHPZP’ – some line of action is being suspended, interrupted or cut off, negation (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 255–264) ‘OHPVP’ – halt a current line of action, to stop (Kendon 2004 2004Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar: 248–255); ‘threat’, ‘stop’, ‘halt’, ‘silence’, ‘negation’, ‘refusal’ De Jorio (2000de Jorio, Andrea 1832/2000 “La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire napoletano (Fibreno, Naples 1832) [Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity.], translated and with an introduction and notes by Adam Kendon. Bloomington / Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar: 201, 291, 275, 342)
American-Jewish ‘finished’, ‘through’, ‘separation’ (Efron 1941/1972Efron, David 1941/1972Gesture, Race and Culture. Paris/The Hague: Mouton. Original edition/Zuerst erschienen 1941: Gesture and Environment.Google Scholar) ‘stop’, ‘attention’, ‘quiet’, ‘wait’, ‘rejection’ (Efron, 1941/1972Efron, David 1941/1972Gesture, Race and Culture. Paris/The Hague: Mouton. Original edition/Zuerst erschienen 1941: Gesture and Environment.Google Scholar)
Spanish ‘wiping off’ – negative assessment (Müller and Speckmann 2002); ‘brushing aside’ – negative assessment (Teßendorf 2014Teßendorf, Sedinha 2014 “Pragmatic And Metaphoric Gestures – Combining Functional With Cognitive Approaches in the Analysis of the "Brushing Aside Gesture".” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbook of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1540–1558. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar)

Although research investigates gestures in Chinese, Japanese, Turkish or indigenous languages of North and South America, for instance, studies mainly focus on the expression of spatial and temporal information (e.g., Enfield 2009Enfield, Nick J. 2009The Anatomy of Meaning: Speech, Gesture, and Composite Utterances. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2000; Haviland 2000Haviland, John B. 2000 “Pointing, Gesture Spaces and Mental Maps.” In Language and Gesture, ed. by David McNeill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Nuñez and Sweetser 2006Nuñez, Rafael E., and Eve Sweetser 2006 “With the Future Behind Them: Convergent Evidence From Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construals of Time.” Cognitive Science 30 (3): 401–450. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Özyürek 2000Özyürek, Asli 2000 “The Influence of Addressee Location on Spatial Language and Representational Gestures of Direction.” In Language and Gesture, ed. by David McNeill, 64–83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) or the expression of motion verbs (e.g., Duncan 2002Duncan, Susan 2002 “Gesture, Verb Aspect, and the Nature of Iconic Imagery in Natural Discourse.” Gesture 2 (2): 183–206. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Özyürek et al. 2005Özyürek, Asli, Sotaro Kita, and Shanley Allen 2005 “How Does Linguistic Framing of Events Influence Co-Speech Gestures? Insights from Crosslinguistic Variations and Similiarites.” Gesture 5 (1/2): 219–240. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Reiter 2013Reiter, Sabine 2013 “The Multi-Modal Representation of Motion Events in Awetí Discourse.” CogniTextes. Revue de l’Association française de linguistique cognitive (Volume 9).Google Scholar). Analyses on conventionalized gestures are few (Brookes 2004Brookes, Heather 2004 “A Repertoire of South African Quotable Gestures.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 14 (2): 186–224. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2005 2005 “What Gestures Do: Some Communicative Functions of Quotable Gestures in Conversations Among Black Urban South Africans.” Journal of Pragmatics 32: 2044–2085. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2014 2014 “Gestures in South Africa.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communcation Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1147–1153. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar) and investigations of gestures that have been identified as common in Indo-European languages are still a research desideratum. Yet, a deeper understanding of recurrent gestures, their commonalities in form and function and their distribution across cultures and languages requires analyses investigating these gestures in a range of different languages.

This paper presents a first analysis of gestures used for the expression of refusal, rejection, exclusion, and negation in Savosavo, a Papuan language spoken in the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific (Wegener 2012Wegener, Claudia 2012A Grammar of Savosavo. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Following the method and procedure of Bressem and Müller (2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar, 2014b 2014b “A Repertoire of Recurrent Gestures of German.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communcation Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1575–1591. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar) and Ladewig (2010Ladewig, Silva H. 2010 “Beschreiben, suchen und auffordern – Varianten einer rekurrenten Geste.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 89–111. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2011 2011 “Putting the Cyclic Gesture on a Cognitive Basis.” CogniTextes 6. https://​cognitextes​-revues​.org​/406Google Scholar), the results of a study investigating two recurrent gestures in Savosavo are discussed: sweeping away and holding away. In doing so, a first analysis of recurrent gestures in a Papuan language is presented that contributes to the understanding of (partly) conventionalized gestures in general and to gestures expressing refusal, rejection, exclusion and negation in particular. The following section provides some introductory background on the Savosavo language before discussing the database and the theoretical and methodological approach adopted in the study in Section 3. The main characteristics (form, meaning, function) of sweeping and holding away gestures in Savosavo are presented in Section 4, using a range of examples. Concluding, the paper discusses the results in relation to existing research on recurrent gestures in Indo-European languages and poses questions for further research.

2.Savosavo: A language of the Solomon Islands

Savosavo is the easternmost of only four (at best distantly related) non-Austronesian (Papuan) languages spoken among more than 70 Austronesian languages in the Solomon Islands. The Savosavo speech community comprises about 3,500 people living on Savo Island, a small volcanic island approximately 35km northwest of the capital Honiara. Most speakers are subsistence farmers and fishermen.

Savosavo is still learned by children but under threat from the local lingua franca Solomon Islands Pijin, an English-based creole. It has a relatively small phoneme inventory with five vowels (/a, e, i, o, u/) and 17 consonants (/p, b, t, d, ɟ, k, g, m, n, ɲ, ŋ, s, z, l, r, β̞, ɰ/),33.We are using a practical orthography throughout this paper, representing most phonemes by their IPA symbol except the following: /ɟ/ <j>, /g/ <q>, /ɲ/ <gn>, /ŋ/ <ng>, /β̞/ <v> and /ɰ/ <gh>. which is typical for the region. It is a mildly agglutinating language with AOV/SV basic constituent order and the corresponding typological profile (postpositions, predominantly suffixing, most modifiers precede the head). Interesting grammatical features include its gender system with two classes (feminine for female higher animate beings, masculine for everything else) and a marked-nominative case system: syntactic subject NPs are overtly marked as nominative, while syntactic object NPs remain unmarked. Verbs agree with their object in person, number and gender, but there is no verb agreement with subjects. Savosavo makes frequent use of serial verb constructions, i.e. two or more verb stems are juxtaposed to form one complex verbal predicate. For more information on the grammar of Savosavo see Wegener (2012)Wegener, Claudia 2012A Grammar of Savosavo. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.

The research presented in this paper is the first study of gestures in Savosavo or indeed any Solomon Islands language. The corpus available for this study consisted of 68 hours of video recordings from 84 different speakers (52 male, 32 female), ranging in age from about 20 to about 85, which were collected during Wegener’s Ph.D. fieldwork and the Savosavo Documentation Project (see Wegener (2012)Wegener, Claudia 2012A Grammar of Savosavo. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar and the project website http://​dobes​.mpi​.nl​/projects​/savosavo/ for more detail). The corpus44.The corpus is stored in the DoBeS archive at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, and can be accessed under https://​hdl​.handle​.net​/1839​/00​-0000​-0000​-0008​-7347​-A@view. comprises mostly narratives, procedural texts, interviews, and materials elicited by means of audio-visual stimuli or questionnaires.

3.Identifying recurrent gestures in Savosavo: Methods and database

For the analysis of the two recurrent gestures (sweeping and holding away), we employed the form-based linguistic approach as used in the analyses of the “family of away gestures” for German (Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar, see Section 1). Choosing the same theoretical and methodological approach was done for two reasons. First, it assures comparability of results across languages and cultures. Secondly, the method allowed the researchers, regardless of their knowledge of Savosavo, a first identification and analysis of recurrent gestures in Savosavo.

In a form-based linguistic perspective on the study of gestures, gestural forms are assumed to be motivated form Gestalts, that is meaningful wholes, in which, however, every aspect of a gesture’s form is regarded as potentially meaningful (Bressem and Ladewig 2011Bressem, Jana, and Silva H. Ladewig 2011 “Rethinking Gesture Phases: Articulatory Features of Gestural Movement?Semiotica 184 (1–4): 53–91. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Bressem et al. 2013Bressem, Jana, Silva H. Ladewig, and Cornelia Müller 2013 “Linguistic Annotation System for Gestures (LASG).” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction. (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.1.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Sedinha Teßendorf, 1098–1125. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar; Fricke 2012 2012Grammatik multimodal: Wie Wörter und Gesten zusammenwirken. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Ladewig and Bressem 2013Ladewig, Silva H., and Jana Bressem 2013 “New Insights into the Medium ‘Hand’: Discovering Recurrent Structures in Gestures.” Semiotica 197: 203–231. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Müller 2004Müller, Cornelia 2004 “Forms and Uses of The Palm Up Open Hand. A Case of a Gesture Family?” In Semantics and Pragmatics of Everyday Gestures, ed. by Cornelia Müller, and Roland Posner, 233–256. Berlin: Weidler Verlag.Google Scholar, 2010 2010 “Wie Gesten bedeuten. Eine kognitiv-linguistische und sequenzanalytische Perspektive.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 37–68. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Müller et al. 2013Müller, Cornelia, Jana Bressem, and Silva H. Ladewig 2013 “Towards a Grammar Of Gesture: A Form-Based View.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction. (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.1.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Sedinha Teßendorf, 707–733. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar). Form features may be singled out and differences in form features may be meaningful. As a consequence, gestural form features are not considered to be random. On the contrary, in particular with respect to recurrent gestures, it is assumed that certain form features recur across speakers and contexts whilst maintaining stable meanings. Moreover, it is assumed that recurrent gestures are derived from everyday actions, which are exploited to express gestural meaning. Elements of the actual world and everyday action are reduced and synthesized into a schematic gestural representation (see Kendon 1981Kendon, Adam 1981 “Geography of Gesture.” Semiotica 37 (1/2): 129–163.Google Scholar; Müller 2010 2010 “Wie Gesten bedeuten. Eine kognitiv-linguistische und sequenzanalytische Perspektive.” Sprache und Literatur 41 (1): 37–68. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Posner 2003Posner, Roland 2003 “Everyday Gestures as a Result of Ritualization.” In Everyday Gestures: Meaning and Use, ed. by Monica Rector, Isabella Poggi, and Nadine Trigo, 217–230. Porto: Fernando Pessoa Univ. Press.Google Scholar). Through iconicity, abstraction, and metonymy gestures are tied to the underlying everyday action and thus embody “an intermediary between the concrete world and abstract notions” (Calbris 2003 2003 “From Cutting an Object to a Clear Cut Analysis. Gesture as the Representation of a Preconceptual Schema Linking Concrete Actions to Abstract Notions.” Gesture 3 (1): 19–46. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 20).

This perspective on gestural forms results in a particular methodological approach, which gives form a prominent role in the process of description and analysis. At first, gestures’ forms and the rudimentary meaning of those forms are investigated without verbal context. Only in a second step are gestures examined in relation to speech. More specifically it is assumed that the specific meaning of a gesture emerges out of a fine-grained interaction between a gesture’s form, its sequential position and its embedding within a local context of use. Thus, a gesture’s meaning is determined in a (widely) context-free analysis of its form, before investigating the influence of the context in determining its specific meaning.

Accordingly, the analysis of the sweeping and holding away gestures in Savosavo consisted of a 4-step procedure. First, the form of the gestures was annotated and coded in the annotation program ELAN. In the second step, the gestures were analyzed in relation to the verbal utterance they co-occurred with. Here the gestures were examined with respect to the temporal relation and sequential positioning with speech. In the third step, the gestures’ meaning and function was considered in relation to the syntactic, semantic as well as pragmatic information given by speech but also by semantic and pragmatic information conveyed by adjacent gestures. In the fourth step, the analysis of the local context was combined with an analysis of its context-of-use, the broader discursive situation in which a recurrent gesture occurs. Three contexts-of-use were distinguished:

  • Descriptions: Speakers describe characteristics and courses of events of historical events, fishing techniques, or rituals, for instance.

  • Explanations: Speakers add a statement to clarify something, such as a particular cultural aspect potentially unknown to a foreigner, or give a reason or justification for an action, as when referring to the end of a war or the duration of a particular event, for instance.

  • Requests: Speakers fulfill the speech act of asking for something.

The determination of the contexts-of-use built the basis for the distributional analysis of the gestures, the identification of gestural variants and the detection of a systematic correlation of context-of-use and variations of form and function (cf. Ladewig 2014a 2014a “Recurrent gestures.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Ellen Fricke, Alan Cienki, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1558–1574. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar, 2014b 2014b “The Cyclic Gesture.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (HSK 38.2), ed. by Cornelia Müller, Ellen Fricke, Alan Cienki, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1605–1618. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar). The distributional analysis was done using an Excel data basis.

The two recurrent gestures examined in the study were identified and annotated in two stages: First, the available video material was skimmed through in order to sort out video data that is unsuitable for analysis of (recurrent) gestures (e.g., insufficient quality of the video data, absence of (recurrent) gestures). The most promising recordings were selected. These were recordings with a larger amount of gestures, which were reminiscent of away gestures in the Indo-European languages or which seemed to be specific to Savosavo. The resulting sub-corpus consists of 6 hours of video recordings of narratives, some procedural texts and a few interviews. The corpus comprises monologic, dyadic as well as group constellations of altogether 14 male speakers ranging in age from 39 to about 80. 123 instances of relevant gestures were identified (56 sweeping away, 56 holding away, and 11 hybrids exhibiting features of both types). (It was striking that recordings of female speakers did not contain a lot of gestures and hardly any of the forms we were looking for. A possible explanation might be that the female speakers were less comfortable in front of the camera, as it is traditionally the men who perform public speeches, lead the community as chiefs or politicians and are the official custodians of customary knowledge.) After the selection of recordings, gestural forms resembling sweeping and holding away gestures in the Indo-European context were noted down and annotated. The gesture annotation was either incorporated into existing ELAN files with morpho-syntactic annotations or new ELAN files were set up. In the latter case, morpho-syntactic annotations for Savosavo were later added at and around those points in time where the gestures under investigation occurred. The analysis of the gestures in relation with speech and the determination of the different contexts-of-use were partially done in collaboration with a native speaker of Savosavo because the interpretation of a gestural form is determined by its form and its relation to the spoken utterance. Furthermore, non-linguistic context, such as background information on cultural, geographic, historical and other specific aspects of the life on Savo Island, is crucial to the understanding of speech and gestures.

4.Sweeping and holding away gestures and their context variants in Savosavo

4.1Sweeping away gesture

The sweeping away gesture in Savosavo is characterized by the same formational core as documented for speakers of German, English, French, or Italian: the (lax) flat hand, the palm faces downward, a straight movement starting in the center of the gesture space is executed sideways with an accentuated ending. Moreover, similarly as documented for these languages, the gesture creates an empty plane around the speaker’s body and formerly existing objects or obstacles are completely swept away or are excluded from the body space (cf. Bressem and Müller 2014aBressem, Jana, and Cornelia Müller 2014a “The Family of Away Gestures: Negation, Refusal, and Negative Assessment.” In Body – Language – Communication: An International Handbook on Multimodality in Human Interaction (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 38.2.), edited by Cornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill, and Jana Bressem, 1592–1604. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar).

In our corpus, 56 sweeping away gestures are used in two of the three contexts-of-use: descriptions (38,68%) and explanations (18,32%). In both contexts, sweeping away gestures predominantly express pragmatic meaning (73% and 83% respectively, see Table 2). By sweeping across an imaginary surface, the gestures enact the (a) completion of a series of events or actions towards some end or final state, (b) exhaustive quantification of objects or individuals, (c) exclusion of events or actions, (d) negation of states, events or features, or (e) express the speaker’s stance (declaring the irrelevance of something) (see Figures 15).

Table 2.Distribution of sweeping away gesture
Context-of-use Function of gesture Number of instances
description concrete-referential even plane surface  1  1 n = 56
abstract-referential removal  9  9
pragmatic completion 16 28
exhaustive quantification  7
exclusion  1
negation  3
irrelevance  1
explanation abstract-referential removal  3  3
pragmatic completion  7 15
exhaustive quantification  1
exclusion  1
negation  4
irrelevance  2

In Example (1), the sweeping away gesture G1 is used to depict the completion of a series of events or actions towards some end or final state in a story told about a volcanic eruption on Savo Island. Speaker AK says that after ten days, the volcano had calmed down and had stopped throwing stones and earth. While uttering, “those things were completely finished”, meaning the volcanic eruption was over, the speaker performs a both-handed sweeping away gesture (i.e. the hands are moved apart from each other towards periphery). The movement does not indicate any figurative interruption of the outbreak. Rather, through the emptiness resulting from sweeping across an imaginary surface, the speaker metaphorically displays that there is no more volcanic activity left and a final state has been reached.

Figures 1–3.

Sweeping away gesture enacting (1) completion, (2) exhaustive quantification, (3) exclusion

(1)

Two lax flat hands, palm facing downwards, are moved horizontally to the side twice.

(1)
(2)

The left lax flat hand, palm facing diagonally downwards, is moved horizontally to the left side twice.

(2)
(3)

The lax flat right hand, positioned in the center of the gesture space with the palm facing diagonally downwards, is moved horizontally to the right side.

(3)
(1)
…ghanaghana lova   zui taju ghue      
ghanaghana lo -va zui t- aju -ghu =e  
thought 3sg.m -gen.m end 3d.o- finish -nmlz =emph  
n PPposs   v   v      
      G155.We are using a practical notation for the gestures throughout the paper. The stroke of the gesture, expressing the meaning, is marked in bold letters in the spoken utterance. In addition, the duration of the gestural strokes in relation to morphosyntactic annotation is notated in a separate line by the capital letter ‘G’ along with the respective number of the gesture in the utterance. G1 G1     G2

‘(those) things [volcanic eruption] were completely finished’

G1: Both flat hands, palms facing downward, move laterally and horizontally outwards from the center of the speaker’s body (ak_biti_454)

In Example (2), the sweeping away gestures G1 and G2 do not serve to enact the completion of an event but are rather used to indicate exhaustive quantification. In this example, speaker BD talks about the Christianization and missionaries on Savo Island. While uttering “(the history books,) in (my) research… (when) I did my research on Christianity”, he performs a one-handed sweeping away gesture twice – at first in synchrony with “research” (G1) and then with “my research” (G2). In the course of the self-correction, the same gesture is repeated as the related notion occurs again. Through the gestures, the speaker enacts the exhaustive quantification of his research and indicates that what he will say about his research applies to all of it, without exception. The exhaustive quantification is conceptualized through a sweep across an imaginary surface by which the entirety of his sources is metaphorically uncovered as if having been thoroughly cleaned from sand or dust. In this case, it is not the removal itself but the exhaustive aspect of the resulting revelation that is semanticized.

(2)
…researchila   / lo lotu aiva   researchi palaghue    
researchi =la / lo lotu ai -va researchi pala -ghu =e
research =loc det.sg.m church 1sg.gen -gen.m research make.3sg.m.o -nmlz =emph
n   art n PPposs   n vn    
G1       G2   G2      

‘(the history books,) in (my) research… (when) I did my research on Christianity’

G1, G2: The lax flat hand, palm facing diagonally away from the speakers body, is moved laterally and horizontally outwards twice by bending the wrist. (de_lotu_1441-1442)

Example (3) shows an instance in which the gesture is used to express the notion of exclusion. The extract is taken from a conversation about fishing. Here, speaker SI explains that it is forbidden for women to take part in particular fishing methods like fishing from the koku fishing bridge, for instance. While uttering, “(it is) forbidden for women to go (there, on it)”, he performs a sweeping away gesture together with “women”. By clearing an imaginary surface, he is metaphorically indicating that there is absolutely no (acceptable) opportunity for women to participate. Altogether they are excluded from this special custom.

(3)
tabue   te adakigha   ze boghu;  
tabu =e te adaki =gha ze bo -ghu
taboo =emph emph woman =pl 3pl[gen] go -nmlz
n   emph n   PPposs n  
    G1 G1   G1    

‘(the koku fishing bridge, it is) forbidden for women to go (there, on it)’

G1: The flat hand, palm facing diagonally away from the speakers body is moved laterally and horizontally outwards by bending the wrist. (si_kurao_1015)

Figures 4–6.

Sweeping away gesture enacting (4) negation, (5) speaker’s stance (declaring the irrelevance of something), and (6) removal

(4)

The left lax flat hand, palm facing downward positioned in the upper gesture space, is moved horizontally to the left side.

(4)
(5)

The lax right flat hand, palm facing downwards, is moved horizontally to the right side.

(5)
(6)

The right lax flat hand, palm facing downwards positioned in the upper gesture space, is moved horizontally and downwards to the right side.

(6)