Gestures in your conlang.

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Gestures in your conlang.

Post by Imralu » 11 Mar 2015 18:45

Something that there doesn't seem to be a great deal of discussion about is gestures. It's something that can give a conculture more depth and worth thinking about especially if your conculture doesn't have a place in the real world.

For example, if you have an Earth-based conculture, the gestures will probably mostly be similar to those of the neighbouring cultures, although you could go out on a limb and create a whole lot of unique gestures which are not shared by the neighbouring cultures. For example, Italian culture is notoriously full of gestures with specific meanings, most of which are not shared.

If your conculture exists independently of earthly cultures, you may need some more careful thought. Is nodding instinctive, cultural or a bit of both? How can "good" be expressed other than with a thumb up? Maybe your conculture will have a lot of standardised gestures and maybe they won't. There may even be a taboo against gesturing.

So, here are some suggested topics to cover. Of course, you don't have to have a gesture for each of these and you don't need to limit yourself to these. These ones just seemed particularly common and likely to me. Perhaps I've missed something obvious. Perhaps your conculture has a gesture that expresses something really interesting. Please share!

Yes, no, maybe - nodding for yes is widespread but not quite universal. In Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and neighbouring areas, yes is signalled with a sideways movement. In other places, such as Japan, nodding may indicate merely that the listener is paying attention and understands and doesn't necessarily agree. head shaking is also not universal. In Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey etc., no may be indicated with a single quick upward movement of the head. The Indian head bobble is also interesting. Your conculture may also have a gesture for "maybe" or "kind of".

Greetings, farewells, getting attention, acknowledgment and respect - Hello may be signaled with a wave, but waving comes in various types. A wave for goodbye may not necessarily be the same as for hello. The gesture for these may be entirely unlike what we think of as a wave. The symbolism may be an open handed "I am not carrying a weapon" but it may be something entirely different. There may be a different kind of gesture for "hey, I'm over here!" There may be other gestures to greet or show respect, such as saluting, bowing, curtseying, prostrating oneself on the ground (in fairly extreme cases, I would assume) or something like the añjali mudra.

I remember reading somewhere that the eyebrow flash (a quick up and down movement) is a universal signal to indicate recognition of a known person. I don't know where that was anymore though.

Showing appreciation - applause (cf. ironical slow handclap), bowing

Good / bad - [url]the thumbs up and the thumbs down[/url] are widespread in the Western world and spreading through cultural contact, but are clearly very arbitrary and cultural, not universal, and the thumbs up is vulgar in many places. The A-OK gesture is also reasonably widespread.

Come here - palm up or palm down, all fingers or just one ... or whole arm? Or something else?

Go away

Fuck you (obscene)

Crazy/Insane - even though Australian and German cultures are not all that different, I didn't understand the gesture for crazy when I got here. Germans either tap or twist a finger on the temple or wave a hand, twisting sideways at the wrist, with the palm towards the face. In Australia, we use the finger going in circles around the ear gesture, as in the USA and, I assume, Britain.

So, if you've come up with gestures for your culture, share them here. If you haven't, now's a good time to think about it. Also, feel free to provide links to anything interesting about what is universal/instinctive, a tendency, and what is arbitrary.
Glossing Abbreviations: COMP = comparative, C = complementiser, ACS / ICS = accessible / inaccessible, GDV = gerundive, SPEC / NSPC = specific / non-specific, AG = agent, E = entity (person, animal, thing)

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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by elemtilas » 11 Mar 2015 19:50

Imralu wrote:Something that there doesn't seem to be a great deal of discussion about is gestures. It's something that can give a conculture more depth and worth thinking about especially if your conculture doesn't have a place in the real world.
It happens that I've done some work on Daine body language:

Hands of two people clasped, palms of right and left hand are pressed together and the fingers are entertwined. This is a sign of affection and intimacy.

(Gammal), both hands and both feet together. This means “Whisht! I’m figgurin!” Daine count on fingers and toes when doing sums, and sit with hands and fingers in close proximity.

The upward pointing finger (3,4,5 touching 1 (the thumb)): that means “Ay! at last I understand thee!” Can be general understanding or deeper comprehension.

The hands outstretched: could be supplication, with palms up and elbows slightly bent; or an invitation for a hug, with palms medial. A smile and raised wingtips usually accompany this latter gesture.

The elbows clasped with hands: that means “I’m not sure about thee - I don’t know what you want from me.” Can also mean “Please don’t touch me!”

The right foot set forward, perhaps accompanied by a glance towards someone: Daine are left-centric, so this means “He’s starting off on the wrong foot!”

The head tilted upward: this is a sign of disbelief. “What kind of wild story are you going to tell me this time, lad!?” Particularly from concerned mother to her young son, who is trying furiously to hide the evidence in a tree stump or under his bed.

The head bowed: a sign of sorrow, especially with drawn face, sobbing or face buried in hands. A sign of shame with eyes downcast or closed. It is also a sign of concentration over a small task, such as sharping a knife or carving something.

Arms crossed over head while reclining: a sign of contentment and ease.

The hands on the knees: when the Great Queen sits upon her stool with hands on her knees it means “I am acting in fully authorised capacity as queen and speak for all my people. If you are a friend, let’s talk! If you an enemy, be warned!” Storytellers also use this posture when proclaiming.

The hands on the ankles: when sitting cross legged, this is a posture of meditation. When sitting in general, either on a bench or on the floor with knees drawn up to the chin, it is probably no more than a hearer listening to a story with rapt attention while idly fingering an anklet, or the knobby bit of bone there.

The back facing one: after an argument, this means “Watch out! You’ve made me mad, now watch my back as I walk away from you!” Especially with back and arms stiff and wings slightly apart. In bed it means “Rub my back or sides; massage that little bit between my wings that makes me go all limp and fuzzy inside!”

At a feast or in the main room of the house, the women usually sit upon a raised bench, while the men sit in front of them on a lower bench on on the floor. This means “I’m putting myself between thee and danger, woman. I’m ready to leap up and take care of whatever might threaten thee!”

There is one place (I think in the Marches) where the positioning is reversed - but that just means “I’m behind thee, love, watching your back. I’m looking out in front and will leap up at a moments notice and take care of whatever might threaten thee!”

The fist raised towards one: that means “Deek here, pal! You’ve made me really angry, to the point that we’re going to have to settle this! Defend yourself!” That’s a fist raised as if about to punch - so the elbow is pointing down.

When the fist is up and the arm is bent 90deg to the side, that means “We scored the point! Your team SUCKS ROTTEN EGGS! OOOO HAI!”

The finger in the ear: too much wax! Now, a finger (ones own) touching the back part of the ear means “Whisht! I’m thinking!” A finger (someone elses) touching any part of the ear means “Soon we’ll be at the kissing and fondling; and a roll about in the wild heather can’t be far behind!”

A hand on the chest of another: a typical form of greeting is to approach a friend and place your hand upon the middle of the other’s chest.

Wings up and parallel to the body: a typical iconographic convention that denotes saintliness. It also denotes supreme sexual gratification.


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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by Ahzoh » 11 Mar 2015 19:57

The Vrkhazhi point to their addressee to show who they are speaking to, and this can be extended to multiple people.
The hand is usually one index finger point to a singular addressee, your index finger and middle finger when you point to two addressees, and your index finger and pinky finger when referring to more than two.

When greeting one another, Vrkhazhi place their left hand, hand abducted, onto each other's forehead and then release their hand and take a step back.

When a Vrkhazhi wants to give something to another, there are two ways they give and receive:
Towards strangers, the giver gives an object with his left hand, and the receiver receives with his left hand. This indicated a sense of waryness, in that one might have had a dagger behind his back.
Towards familiar people, ye giver gives an object with both hands, one on top and the other on the bottom, and ye receiver receives in the same way. This indicates openness and exposing oneself, a form of trust in the other. It also symbolizes wholehearted giving and receiving.

When before the vakkam (emperor), all must prostrate and then sit or lay on the ground before him/her (the vakkam), only the vakkam can give you permission to stand.
The upward pointing finger (3,4,5 touching 1 (the thumb)): that means “Ay! at last I understand thee!” Can be general understanding or deeper comprehension. 
I like this, I would use it, but I'd use it for beckoning.
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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by Khemehekis » 13 Mar 2015 22:27

From my page on Kankonian:

Briefly lifting the head to the top, with the Adam's apple clearly seen, indicates an answer of yes (the haiyi). Briefly lowering the head, reaching the chin to the neck, indicates no (the baki). The display of the palm is a greeting. To tell a person or animal to come here, stick out the index finger of one hand, with the hand pulled out some distance from the body, and move the hand towards the chest. A cupped hand with the concavity on top indicates that you like something; turned upside-down it indicates that you dislike something. The placement of a fist behind the derrière is a clue that someone needs to use the restroom. When you alternatingly move one fist above and back on top of the other, you are pantomiming smoking on a bong and mean that someone must be on drugs ("smoking something"). Pulling the fist up as if pulling on a string means peace. Forming the hand into a shape of a hole (the Japanese "money" sign) is asking for the time. To indicate that you are doing well, point one index finger to the sky; to indicate that you are doing badly, point one index finger to the ground. Forming the hand into the shape of the letter dand stands for "devesis", and is used for foreign enemies (such as the Dantonese and Kebsabhazians) who are perceived as being conservative.

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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by Micamo » 14 Mar 2015 05:07

The traditional greeting in Mithe culture is to turn your back to the other person and spread out your arms; This is a sign of trust and that you consider the other person a friend, and it shows off the clan symbol usually embroidered on the back of your clothes so the other person can see what your affiliation is.

...As embarassed as I am to say it, that's pretty much the only thing in my entire conworld that I've developed on the subject.
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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by cntrational » 14 Mar 2015 10:30

I only have a bit for the qars.

Secreting weak acids and lightly spraying it at your conversational partner is the equivalent of gestures, the selection based on relations to thinking chemicals.

It's a gesture of deep trust in most qarian cultures to break a small piece of yourself off and allow someone else to digest it.

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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by Foolster41 » 23 Mar 2015 05:19


Yes, no - Salthans will "bob" their head, moving their entire head down and up to show acknowledgement. However, Bobbing the head up and down quickly multiple times is a sign of contempt/dominance/authority. Salthans will shake their head for no.

Greetings, farewells, getting attention, acknowledgment and respect - Salthans lay their palms out flat, palm upwards and bob their head. It is also customary as the greeting to say "dika esha" (to male) or "dika eshi" (female) which means "Greetings, friend". Getting someone's attention from a distance is commonly done by holding a hand up and waving it back and forth. The gesture for goodbye is the same as a greeting, though instead "salnenas esha/eshi" ("good travels, friend") is said instead.

Submission - one sticks out the tongue, and holds the palms out upward to show obbedience.

Obscene Gestures - Pointing, particularly at people with a fist and a single finger is seen as obscene. Pointing with two fingers, or with the thumb up is seen as much more acceptable.

Crazy/Insane - Not sure yet.

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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by prettydragoon » 23 Mar 2015 22:04

The Rireinukave live on a planet of their own (or several) so their gestures shouldn't owe much if anything to any other humanoid culture. I haven't given them all that much thought yet. But here's a start.

Yes, no, maybe -

Greetings, farewells, getting attention, acknowledgment and respect - Bowing is the general gesture here. For extra respect, you might even touch the other person's feet with your right hand.
- The military salute consists of putting your right hand over your heart. To allow drill instructors to return salutes, the official wording makes no reference to a heart, but rather the right forearm horizontal, palm towards your chest, fingers straight and together.

Showing appreciation - Slapping your thighs.

Good / bad -

Come here - Palm towards yourself, hand straight up, and fingers together, move the whole arm towards yourself.

Go away

Fuck you (obscene) - If you crook your finger at a Rireinukave in the common Western come here gesture, with palm up, that's an insult. Specifically, "you're a wanker".

Crazy/Insane -
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Re: Gestures in your conlang.

Post by valiums » 18 Apr 2015 21:14

In the Archlands, everyone has an ability which basically amounts to making fire, so a lot of gestures are supplemented by a small light.

Yes - front-to-back or up-and-down nodding
No - side-to-side shaking, without tilting the head.
Maybe-yes - learning the head from side to side
Maybe-no - shaking the head while leaning it to one side; possibly also looking up or down. Looking away from the person is a much stronger No without being rough, while looking and leaning one's head towards them is more positive while still being unlikely.

Greeting - when meeting someone in one's clan, or in their situational in-group, turning the hand at the wrist without shaking it, a sort of in-place wave, is common. Waving/turning one's hands directly above the head shows respect to the other.
Bowing is use to greet strangers and outsiders that one wants to show respect to, as well as when entering buildings or areas, to greet the house/local spirit. When entering work or some other serious are, the hands are put to the sides, and one looks directly down; when entering a home, a school, etc, one clasps their hands before them, and may continue looking around normally. One common flourish, used especially by children at schools, is to start a flame in each hand, and have them 'explode' when they combine and collide at the clasp.

When someone joins a group, conversation, etc. late, the person who invited them will bob their head towards the joiner while the joiner bows, and if the occasion is formal enough, everyone gets up to do a fresh round of bowing, facing the joiner.

When parting, one bows away from the staying party, shallowly, bending not more than about 20 degrees, in the direction one is leaving, while still turning one's head towards the stayers. This is often combined or replaced with a small wave.

Tapping the ear once signifies understanding, acknowledgement, acceptance, and that one will do what was asked. Tapping both ears while bowing is a more servile version; doing it without bowing is considered cute. Touching one ear and having the hand sharply move away from the head after is quite flippant.

Appreciation is shown through clapping in rowdy, informal situations, and more formally or quietly by blowing a small stream of fire from one's mouth for a few seconds. Spitting a little flame is also considered an elegant Yes.

Fear and unease are conveyed with hands in a position like the anjali mudra, often clasped before the face.

Steepled fingers close to the chest represent distaste, dislike and unhappiness; if one has a fire going between them, they signify boredom. Resting one's steepled or clasped hands over their drinks, cups, plates, books, etc,, away from the body means nothing, unless that item was served in a restaurant, cafe, etc., in which case it signifies extreme dissatisfaction with the item.

That's all I have now.

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