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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


CARSTENS, Adelia. The role of hand gestures in audiovisual presentations by theology students: Alignment of theory and practice. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.4-1, pp.959-986. ISSN 2224-7912.

Communication in the 21st century has become multimodal. A variety of primary modes, including text, narration, movement, colour and sound are also "translated" and delivered in secondary modes through electronic devices. One of the genres that is characterised by multimodality is audio-visual presentation. In students 'presentations, speech is normally the primary mode, supported by text, movement, still pictures and colour. In oral presentation, physical gestures, gaze and other body language function as part of multimodal ensembles. This article focuses, in particular, on the hand gestures that form part of modal ensembles. In scholarly literature, the word "gesture" is used to imply that the actor has some voluntary control over a movement, and its meaning. Gestures are "actions" demonstrating "features of manifest deliberate expressiveness" (Kendon, 2004:14, 15), which involve the hand and arm movements humans make when they speak (Seyfeddinpur, 2011:148; Roth, 2001:368). Much of the theoretical literature on gestures deals with how they are cognitively processed. De Ruiter (2007) distinguishes three main "architectures" that account for different viewpoints on the processing of manual gestures: Window Architecture (Beattie, 2003) assumes that gestures come straight from the mind, without mediation by language. Language Architecture assumes that the language a person speaks affects their gesture. Postcard Architecture implies that words, speech and gesture arise together from an underlying propositional representation that has both visual and linguistic aspects (Tenjes, 2001:317). Kendon (1980; 2004) and McNeill (1992:2) have consistently emphasised the unity of speech and gesture. Postcard Architecture resonates with thinking in recent and current studies in multimoda-lity, that there are no distinct semiotic systems in the human brain, but rather one integrated repertoire of linguistic and semiotic practices from which communicators constantly draw (Garcia, 2009; Garcia & Li, 2014; Canagarajah, 2011; Mazak, 2017). Sign makers make meaning by drawing on a variety of modes that combine with others in "ensembles" (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 1996; 2001; Kress, 2010). However, there is still no general consensus on whether gestures primarily explicate the thought processes of the speaker, or intentionally communicate information to the audience or interlocutor, or both. For the purpose of this article it is deemed sufficient to recognise that gestures constitute part of multimodal ensembles, in which oral discourse is the primary mode of communication; that gestures do have communicative value; and that people use gestures in accordance with their communicative goals (Müller, Bressem & Ladewig, 2013:713). The majority of scholars today view language and gestures as semiotic systems of which the signs have form and meaning. It is also generally accepted that gesture studies need their own vocabularies in order to talk about their mode-specific formal characteristics. Below, an overview is given of the most cited gesture typologies and the nomenclatures for describing some of the formal characteristics of gestures. From the various gesture typologies, in particular McNeill (1992), (Tenjes (2001) and Müller (1998; 2004) the following typology has been distilled to serve as a basis for the semantic categorisation of gestures: Representational Concrete: Iconic Abstract: Metaphorical Referential Concrete (referent present in the discursive space) Concrete (referent absent from the discursive space) Abstract (metaphorical) Emblems Beats Discourse gestures The article also discusses aspects of gestures that resemble syntax in language, viz. handedness (left, right or both), semi-conventionalised hand shapes and orientation ofthe palm and fingers, as well as position of gestures in the gesture space. Subsequently a description is given of a research project that analyses co-speech gestures in a corpus of 17 video-recorded group presentations by first-year students of theology registered for the module "Academic Literacy for Theology" on the topic "The evaluation of ten church websites according to criteria from a published theology article " (Waters & Tindall, 2010). Data were captured during three different cycles: • Extracting the speech from each video using the software program Subtitle Edit, saved in a Microsoft Excel file, and edited. • Dividing the text according to presentations and (speech) turns by group members, and saved in separate Word documents. • Watching each video again, while conducting the following actions: Dividing all the relevant gestures according to the five main types and their subtypes and inserting them as still pictures into the relevant files, for example "metaphor", "abstract deixis". During the analysis, all captured images of the gestures demonstrating "manifest deliberate expressiveness" (Kendon, 2004:15) were further categorised according to their formal characteristics (handedness, position in gesture space and hand shape). A number of representative examples from each of the main typological categories (deictic, iconic and metaphoric) were described in detail. This was done by replaying the relevant video clip a number of times, listening to the speech, and interpreting the information with reference to the literature review. The following table gives a brief overview of the findings regarding handedness, position in the gesture space, and the hand shape of the 232 analysed gestures. The table shows that both hands are used for approximately two thirds of the iconic and metaphorical gestures, while deictic gestures are predominantly produced with only one hand. This is not surprising, given the referential (demonstrative) purpose of deictic gestures (for which only one hand is necessary), as opposed to iconic and metaphorical gestures, which have a representative function, best achieved by using both hands. Findings regarding the gesture space is well aligned with findings in the literature. Regarding hand shape, the C- and flat C-shape occur in 17% of the iconic gestures, while the shallow cup occurs in similar frequencies (between 10,4 and 13,1%) across all three main typological categories. An unexpected, but positive, finding was that the open hand is the preferred shape for deictic gestures (63%), and not the pistol shape, which is strongly discouraged in the advice literature on the use of gestures in presentations. The article is concluded by advice for the use of gestures in students' audiovisual presentations. The advice is based on the gesture theories and typologies discussed earlier, as well as on the analysis of the corpus.

Palavras-chave : body language; deictic sign; hand gesture; icon; metaphor; beat; discourse gesture; emblem; multimodality.

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