Are gestures a universal language?


DO IT SOMETIME What’s up? Across vast cultural divides people can understand one another through gesture. Does that make it a universal language?The idea is ancient, intuitive, and not altogether wrong. The most common example is that of explorers to new lands who could claim successful communication with indigenous peoples through gesture.
What’s new? Beyond shaking, nodding and pointing, another major class of gestures are those that depict. If the hawk flew at you from the south, the speaker would gesture it flying from south. Many of the metaphors humans seem to favour are based on spatial images, and so they lend themselves well to the imagistic medium of gesture. Evidently not all gestures are universal. The final workhorse of gesture is also the most abstract: the metaphors that people create with their hands.
So what? Gestures are not universal ‘across all regions of the habitable’ world – though they are much more so than some have claimed. Whatever its merits, the idea of gesture as a universal language is likely not going away.


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