So as the snow came falling, just before my last clinical placement begins, I took the opportunity to relax and chose a movie from my ‘to watch’ pile of DVDs.
Have any of you watched the movie, Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts? A not-so-typical drama/romance, Eat Pray Love is about a married woman’s journey round-the-world to discover herself after a painful divorce. I can go on and on about the movie and don’t want to accidently spill spoilers for those of you that haven’t watched it.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with speech therapy. Well, there was this scene in the movie where they were discussing learning the Italian language, saying “You don’t speak the language with just your mouth, you speak it with your hands”. Naturally, as an SLP2b, I began to notice and analyze all the gestures in the movie and found it fascinating that one can interpret so much of what is being said just by looking at gestures.
I managed to find this part of the movie on Youtube, and thought I’d share it (no spoilers here!)
Most people link gestures to people who are deaf or struggle with a communication difficulty, but gesturing is natural and everyone uses these great, clumsy appendages at the end of our arms – our hands!
Some reasons why people gesture:
1. It helps them be more fluent and articulate. A study involving three groups (both arms immobilized, one arm immobilized, and free to gesture) concluded that dysfluency increases as gesture is restricted.
2. It conveys enthusiasm, confidence, and passion
3. Helps clarify the message
There are several types of gestures. Conventional gestures are gesture-symbols like the ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘okay’ gestures. Iconic gestures have meanings too, but they aren’t symbolic. So these are often the gestures you make without thinking about it when you are talking, like gesturing backwards over your shoulder when you say things like “I was at my friend’s house yesterday …” The meaning in the gesture echoes some of the meaning in what you said.
Gestures & Communication Difficulties
A patient group that uses a lot of gesture to communicate is people with aphasia. It is great that, although they may not be able to access the words they want to say, they may be able to gesture some of them. Interestingly though, people with aphasia might sometimes have the same problems with gesture as they do with language. Let’s say someone cant quite get the word ‘bird’ and they say something like ‘ooh the p .. the little one there … the p.. the b. the um that one’, research has shown that sometimes the gesture will stuck in a similar way too. A study by Dr Lucy Dipper looked at a narrative told by a lady with aphasia, and showed that the gesture she used could give us useful clues about her language impairment. To find out more about the patterns in this lady’s gesture, access the paper here.
So guys, next time you are on a bus journey/train journey back and forth to uni/work, take a look at those around you and see how natural it is to use gestures. I am going to set a challenge. Turn your music up loud and take a look around, see if you can work out what others are saying without being able to see or hear their words? Let me know how successful you are!
The use of BSL
Also, did you realize that British Sign Language (BSL) is an entire language, just as complex as English and Arabic, composed of hand movements only? BSL is used by a range of people, such as the Deaf, and teachers and family members of deaf people. An estimated number of 125,000 deaf adults and 20,000 children use BSL in the UK. It involves the use of signs, facial expressions, body movements, and space to communicate. The signs are different from gesture because they are completely symbolic and so you can’t usually guess what they mean if you don’t sign yourself.
BSL has its own system of complex grammar and phonology, which is defined by orientation, location, hand shape, motion and so on…Although it may appear to be very different than spoken language, the child processes of phonological acquisition of BSL and speech development are similar. Actually, a very interesting study (click here to access for free) was conducted by one of the professors at our university, Dr. Gary Morgan, on a deaf little girl. Her sign language used the same kinds of simplification strategy as you would expect in the speech of a hearing child.
I’ll leave it at that for now, as I can go on and on about the wonders of expanding communication beyond the use of words!
Hope you enjoyed this month’s blog, see ya!