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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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It is so nice to get to this point!
A narrative of the origin of language that does not give an explanation for the interlocked relationship between gesture and voice would seem incomplete and not particularly convincing.
I see various roles for gesture in present day speech:
• The equivalent of emoticons, clues to the emotional state of the speaker, needed to interpret the meaning of utterances. Example: palm up and palm down signal.
• Gestures to attract attention to something, components of our dyatic and triatic situations.
• The equivalent of words. Those gestures that have a silent space inserted into the speech flow while they are made.
• The equivalent of illustrations. Those gestures that accompany speech (not as words) but as additional information in the form of a mine or picture.
• The equivalent of a baton. The use of the hands to mark the rhythm of speech so that the speaker and listener are synchronized. This helps the listener follow what is being said.
We hardly realize how much we use and rely on gestures. People gesture when they are on the phone! Some people can barely talk if their hands are not free and will put down a load in order to say some simple thing so they can use their hands! People, especially children, flail about with their hands when they can’t find the words to express something. And on and on.


This is great! In both language acquisition and language creation (a la Nicaraua), the first pilot of attention is always pointing. Then comes the complementary one-word stage where the child might say 'ball' while pointing to a ball—both the gesture and the ball refer to the same thing. After this comes the supplementary one-word stage where the sound and the gesture carry different information—saying 'more' while pointing at food. These seem similar to your steps 2 & 3. When the environment doesn't include speech, both these stages are missing, so we go right to the two-word stage—point followed by signed word. When the kid is exposed to a signed language it takes some pretty fancy analysis to tell pointing from saying 'that', and if her environment includes both spoken and signed language, it can be impossible to tell co-speech gestures from a bilingual utterance.
In my lectures I illustrate by giving a command to one person while making eye contact with someone else—resulting in a compete breakdown of communication. One problem in English grammar is that “all sentences must have a subject”--so where does it go in the imperative? Giving the a command in ASL, the eyegaze is interpreted as a morpheme indicating the subject, but not so in English, even though both languages do exactly the same thing! Another example is the sentence “This is not this”. Although arguably grammatical, no one accepts it as making any sense—until they see the video showing the pointing gestures that no one in their right mind would say it without. Such sentences are common, and the points are pronouns when conversing in ASL, but if conversing in English they are...nothing(?).


Quite illuminating. I would like to point out (ahem) that the ability to point outside the situation of dyadic interaction in a "triangular" way, peculiar to humans, has to do with the peculiar specular quality of dyadic communication. That is, if I am interactant A, I can only point out C to interactant B once I can take for granted that B can see what I can see, that is, that B is a subject like myself and constructs a perceptual world much like mine but "mirrored" (in the sense that he recognizes me in the same way). Some philosophical reflections about mutuality, the Other, and reciprocal recognition would seem to stretch their roots back to some neurological mechanism which allows this specularity (and I'm thinking of mirror neurons). In a nutshell: the third in question can only appear in a process of interaction which is mutually reflexive (Ok that sounds redundant, but then reflexivity leads you into infinite regress, unless you bring in some third element into the situation, that is).
BLOGGER: There is much discussion about apes and a "theory of mind." We know that chimps sometimes do take into account whether another is looking at something or not. For example, a subordinate chimpanzee will not take food visible to a dominant, but will take food that is hidden from the dominant's view. Does this mean that chimpanzees recognize the mental state of seeing in others? Philosophers disagree.

Chris Crawford

Dogs can have their attention directed both by gesture and by gaze. This is understandable because they are pack hunters. I wonder, is this true in general? Do all pack hunters have directable attention?
BLOGGER: Joint attention and gaze direction are not the same thing and one does not imply the other. Apes will direct their attention to where a fellow ape is looking, but nothing is shared mutually learned by the action. That said, dogs are a special and interesting case, not because they are pack hunters (most are not) but because they have adapted so well to human society. Pack hunting origins may have given them a spur in the right direction, but they still had to discover human ways. I have seen African wild dogs hunt and lions too. Social hunters direct their attention in the same way, but I have never seen one point or gesture to another indicating, say, over there, zebra.


Another point is the role of emotion. Co-speech gesture qualifies as a typical sociolinguistic variable, varying as a function of speech style. Exactly as with William Labov's R-deletion, the more emotional the speaker the more gestures occur. More formal speech styles, where speakers suppress their emotions, are accompanied by little or no unconscious gestures. It seems reasonable that learning to suppress our limbic responses goes along with developing language?


What happened the boy's coat in the picture at the top? It's terribly ragged.

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