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Gilbert Zaragoza

Psych 131

Gestures function as a form of nonverbal communication. Often this function

serves as a corollary to speech, either facilitating utterance selection or supplementing an

utterance with visual cues. In ASL, however, gestures serve a more dominant role as the

primary medium of communication. As such, it is important for rules or some standard to

govern ASL, in order to assist in coordinating communication between nonverbal

participants. Consequently, ASL possesses the unique quality of being an explicitly

defined set of gestures with explicitly stated meanings attached to each gesture. In fact,

the internet offers guides on ASL, and there exists dictionaries of ASL gestures and their

meanings. Just as in verbal communication, ASL as an established form of

communication that is structured and requires a common lexicon and experience. For

example, a person who knows ASL would not attempt to communicate with a stranger

using ASL unless he or she believed that stranger would comprehend the gestures


Other gestures are much less rigid and well defined. Spontaneous gestures during

speech usually do not have an explicit definition. Although social conventions may

establish implicit definitions for some gesture, like nodding head to say hello, these

meanings are not the result of any attempt to standardize how such gestures are used.

Most often during spontaneous speech a speaker will use gestures that seem random and

at times almost meaningless without the verbal context in which the gesture is made.

These types of gestures typically do not function as the primary means of

communicating, but they do serve as secondary to the utterances being made. For

example, a speaker may wave his hands as he talks or turn his hand over when he is

attempting to express some complicated idea. Topic gestures relate directly to what is

being said and expresses some semantic detail related to this discourse. In comparison,

interactive gestures are communicative acts used to help a speaker form and complete

some process of joint communication.i A good example of the latter is the snapping of

fingers when trying to recall an obscure detail. Ultimately all forms of gestures facilitate

the discourse taking place, either in a primary and direct way or else in some secondary