Some Basics And Their Origins

Most of the basic communication gestures are the same all over the world. When people are happy they smile; when they are sad or angry they frown or scowl. Nodding the head is almost universally used to indicate 'yes' or affirmation. It appears to be a form of head lowering and is probably an inborn gesture, as it is also used by deaf and blind people. Shaking the head from side to side to indicate 'no' or negation is also universal and may well be a gesture that is learned in infancy. When a baby has had enough milk, he turns his head from side to side to reject his mother's breast. When the young child has had enough to eat, he shakes his head from side to side to stop his parent's attempt to spoon feed him and in this way he quickly learns to use the head shaking gesture to show disagreement or a negative attitude.

The evolutionary origin of some gestures can be traced to our primitive animal past. Baring the teeth is derived from the act of attacking and is still used by modern man in the form of a sneer and other such hostile gestures, even though he will not attack with his teeth. Smiling was originally a threat gesture, but today it is done in conjunction with non-threatening gestures to show pleasure.

The shoulder shrug is also a good example of a universal gesture that is used to show that a person does not know or understand what you are talking about. It is a multiple gesture that has three main parts: exposed palms, hunched shoulders and raised brow.

Just as verbal language differs from culture to culture, so the non-verbal language may also differ. Whereas one gesture may be common in a particular culture and have a clear interpretation, it may be meaningless in another culture or even have a completely

Cultural Gestures

opposite meaning. Take, for example, the cultural interpretations and implications of three common hand gestures, the ring gesture, the thumb-up and V sign.

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