The Biological Foundations of Gestures: Motor and Semiotic Aspects

By Jean-Luc Nespoulous; Paul Perron et al. | Go to book overview

2 Gestures: Nature and Function

Jean-Luc Nespoulous André Roch Lecours

Originally, our hands were nothing but pincers used to hold stones; Man's genius has been to turn them into the daily more sophisticated servants of his thoughts as a homo faber and as a homo sapiens. --André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, 1964-1965

If André Leroi-Gourhan's quotation clearly lays emphasis upon the sophistication of manual activity in man, it insists as well upon the fact that, with his hands, man acts as a homo faber as well as producing signs, even if his basic semiotic system as a homo signidex remains in most cases oral language . . . in most cases but not in all cases: Several papers in the present volume focus on nonverbal semiotic behaviors of both (a) aphasic patients trying--when possible--to make up for their verbal deficits through spontaneous and untaught gestural activity, and (b) deaf-mutes using Sign Language as their basic semiotic system. Leroi-Gourhan's quotation raises a most important question, by setting forth the twofold nature of gestural activity in man . . . a question which definitely becomes a crucial problem for whoever decides to enter upon the study and the analysis of human gestural behaviors.

Indeed, if the linguist can approach the study of an oral or written corpus without bothering about the nature or the status--which is always symbolic--of the elements he wants to analyze, the task of the semiotician analyzing gestures is much different and far more difficult. If any verbal sign corresponds nicely to the classical stat aliquid pro aliquo, things are rather different when one observes gestural activity in man . . . different in that gestures are not systematically used

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