Research Seminars

Research seminars

The importance of gesture for documenting language: A study of gesture in two Modern South Arabian Languages.


wednesday 31st october 2018

Most observers are aware that when people speak, or interact with each other more generally, they also move their bodies in a variety of ways. Such movements may be referred to as gestures. In recent years, linguists, sociologists and psychologists have explored gestures from a variety of perspectives. Research into language and gesture has demonstrated that the two are linked phonetically, syntactically, and semantically. While this observation has had a dramatic impact on theories within linguistics, it has not had a similar impact on standard practice for language documentation. This has resulted in a continued bias towards the collection of audio rather than audio-video data. 

In this talk, I will demonstrate the importance of collecting audio-video data for linguistic analysis, by showing how critical gesture is during face-to-face interaction. Throughout the presentation I will use examples from two endangered Modern South Arabian Languages, Merhi and Śḥerεt, to demonstrate the importance of gesture annotation and analysis. I argue that the collection of audio-video data is especially important for the documentation and analysis of Merhi and Śḥerεt (andmany other endangered languages) because face-to-face communicative practices (which always include gesture) constitute the language.