October 8, 2012

The conversation of Hands.

If I remember correctly, these blogs are to explore ideas and concepts we are either struggling with, or are still discovering. I want to devote this blog to an epiphany I had the other day in relation to the idea of symbols, signs, and words. The question has been posed to the class many times of whether or not language or even communication requires words and symbols. I had a moment this weekend where I communicated when a guy across the street on his bike, he had rode through half of a light and was waiting for myself and another car to go. He could not see that our light was red, however, and through very basic symbols (pointing and waving) I was able to get him to come to the realization that the light was in fact red for us and he had ride of way. Right afterwards I realized what had happened in that moment; even if he didn’t speak English at all, we still would have been able to have that moment of communication.

The concept I wish to explore during this is the idea of a natural, primitive, and instinctual language that human beings possess and the relation of the language to the concepts we are working through in class. It seemed incredible to me that the biker and I were able to communicate a complex idea with simple hand gestures, “Hey man, you should go ahead and go through the light.” “But that other car will hit me.” “No they won’t, we have a red light.” “Oh you are right; I am so embarrassed, thank you!” That entire conversation was done by signaling the things we were referencing with our hands; through some basic communication we understood exactly what the other person was attempting to get across. I think that this has important lessons to be learning for our Rhetoric classes. It shows that there are some ideas that exist and are separate from language.

I suppose the real question that I cannot answer in relation to this is: what if one of us did not speak English? Are our hand signals universal, or are we simply close enough in the colloquial table to be able to easily understand each other through hand signals? It is impossible to tell from this encounter, but it certainly gave me some things to think about.  The ability to communicate without words is an interesting thing, something that I believe we should touch in on in our class at some point, and knowing me, I will surely bring it up soon.


Angela M said...

This is something I've always wondered about as well. This idea of language without words. But then I think isn't language without words symbols? Were using our hands as a symbol for something as another form of communication just in a different way? I've had quite a few instances where I was talking to someone who didn't speak English and the whole conversation was done through pantomiming. With your example above, the hand signals you used here and the things you referenced were all representative of a symbol that you came to identify through repeated use or everyday. This may have been why you were able to communicate without spoken words. In my anthropology class last year we learned that some symbols are universal. If someone held their hand out, meaning for you to stop, many people from various countries would recognize this to mean "halt" or "stop". This is still a pretty broad and very complicated theory I think because there's so many variables that we can't really account for yet.

Carolina Perez-Siam said...

You pose a very interesting question at the end of your post about language. Would you have been able to have this understanding with the biker had you not spoken english? Shared meaning is a topic that always throws me into a downward spiral of rhetorical questions. My questions stem from my upbringing in Miami, a predominantly bilingual city. I always wonder if growing up using two languages simultaneously enhanced my understanding or weakened it. Unfortunately I still can't answer this question but I do believe that understanding is very situational. Perhaps when we are in danger (i.e. stuck in the middle of a busy intersection on a bike) we revert to primal communication, and this encounter could've happened between you and come one from northeast Asia (where body language is used very differently). Although I am not 100% with this theory I have, it is the one that makes the most sense to me.

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