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Colloquia Green

The expression of direction and orientation in two Modern South Arabian languages
JACK WILSON University of Salford
08 June 2017 | MPI Room 163 | 15.45 – 17.00

Until fairly recently most linguistic fieldwork relied on written records of spoken data or audio-only recordings. The recent increase in research focusing on audio-visual data, with emphasis on the co-expressiveness of speech and gesture, has led to a greater understanding of the relationship between language, gesture and thought. In this paper, we discuss gesture and what it illuminates linguistically in two Modern South Arabian Languages: Mehri and Śḥerɛ̄t.

Gesture researchers have highlighted the close relationship between linguistic structure and gesture segmentation. For example, in English motion descriptions, the manner of movement can be realised as part of the meaning of the verb (e.g., She rolled down the hill) whereas in Turkish it is realised as a separate linguistic unit: yuvarlan-arak cadde-den iniyor (lit. ‘(s/he) descends on the street, as (s/he) rolls.’). English speakers are more likely to produce gestures that depict conflated manner and path, whereas Turkish speakers are more likely to produce separate gestures. Kita and Özyürek (2003) have used these findings to suggest that speech and gesture form an incredibly tight bond in the process of packaging information for speaking.

In this paper, we argue that during descriptions relating to movement through space, Mehri and Śḥerɛ̄t speakers seem to separate orientation and direction both in speech and gesture: for example: ḳəfēdī məns əl-ḥaydiš ḥaymal (lit. ‘go down from it[direction], on your right hand[orientation]). In producing this utterance, the Mehri speaker produced two gestures. The first relating to the direction (‘down’), and the second relating to the orientation (‘on your right hand’). In a cognate expression in English, direction and orientation are expressed linguistically within the verb phrase: go down the right side of it, with accompanying gestures conflating direction and orientation.

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