Notes on Future Language, part 4

We’re talking about using gesture to create visible representations, as a way to augment conversational speech. To break this down into different types of gesture, we should refer back to the reasons we already use various types of gesture.

Pointing is easy. Anything we have visually created can be pointed to, while saying words like “this” or “that”. Also, we can point at one item and then at another to establish a relationship between the two objects.

If we have drawn anything that has a process component, beat gestures are a natural way to iterate through that process. Beat gestures are essentially a way saying “here is the next thing.”

There is an interesting relationship between pointing and beat gestures when it comes to describing time-varying processes: To go back to our cooking recipe example, we can use pointing to refer to a particular place in the recipe. Then we use beat gestures to advance step by step through the recipe instructions.

When used to augment speech, symbols essentially act as adverbs. For example, we can use symbolic gestures to make it clear that things are happening fast or slow, calmly or with agitation, definitively or with confusion, or in a friendly or hostile manner.

Lastly, icons, particularly when used in tandem with spoken words, can be used to create visual representations of actual topics of conversation — a chair, a tree, a calendar, the Sun. Because we are speaking while gesturing, we don’t actually need to draw the objects under discussion. Rather, we can use iconic gestures to indicate a location and size for the visual representation of each object or concept under discussion.

More tomorrow.

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