Human evolution; our complex speech mechanism (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, 17:52 (236 days ago) @ David Turell

It definitely includes the use of meaningful gestures, but just how the brain handles all of this is on partially known:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-the-brain-links-gestures-perception-and-meaning-2019...

"The conversion from movement into meaning is both seamless and direct, because we are endowed with the capacity to speak without talking and comprehend without hearing. We can direct attention by pointing, enhance narrative by miming, emphasize with rhythmic strokes and convey entire responses with a simple combination of fingers.

'The tendency to supplement communication with motion is universal, though the nuances of delivery vary slightly. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, people point with their noses and heads, while in Laos they sometimes use their lips. In Ghana, left-handed pointing can be taboo, while in Greece or Turkey forming a ring with your index finger and thumb to indicate everything is A-OK could get you in trouble.

"Despite their variety, gestures can be loosely defined as movements used to reiterate or emphasize a message — whether that message is explicitly spoken or not. A gesture is a movement that “represents action,” but it can also convey abstract or metaphorical information. It is a tool we carry from a very young age, if not from birth; even children who are congenitally blind naturally gesture to some degree during speech. Everybody does it.

"And yet, few of us have stopped to give much thought to gesturing as a phenomenon — the neurobiology of it, its development, and its role in helping us understand others’ actions. As researchers delve further into our neural wiring, it’s becoming increasingly clear that gestures guide our perceptions just as perceptions guide our actions.

***

"No other species points, Novack explained, not even chimpanzees or apes, according to most reports, unless they are raised by people. Human babies, in contrast, often point before they can speak, and our ability to generate and understand symbolic motions continues to evolve in tandem with language. Gesture is also a valuable tool in the classroom, where it can help young children generalize verbs to new contexts or solve math equations. “But,” she said, “it’s not necessarily clear when kids begin to understand that our hand movements are communicative — that they’re part of the message.”

"When children can’t find the words to express themselves, they let their hands do the talking. Novack, who has studied infants as young as 18 months, has seen how the capacity to derive meaning from movement increases with age. Adults do it so naturally, it’s easy to forget that mapping meaning onto hand shape and trajectory is no small feat.

"Gestures may be simple actions, but they don’t function in isolation. Research shows that gesture not only augments language, but also aids in its acquisition. In fact, the two may share some of the same neural systems. Acquiring gesture experience over the course of a lifetime may also help us intuit meaning from others’ motions. But whether individual cells or entire neural networks mediate our ability to decipher others’ actions is still up for debate.

***

"Researchers may not be able to pinpoint the exact cells that help us to communicate and learn with our bodies, but the overlap between multisensory systems is undeniable. Gesture allows us to express ourselves, and it also shapes the way we understand and interpret others. To quote one of Quandt’s papers: “The actions of others are perceived through the lens of the self.”

"So, the next time someone gives you the one-finger salute, take a moment to appreciate what it takes to receive that message loud and clear. If nothing else, it might lessen the sting a bit."

Comment: Gestures are obviously part of language, but how the brain handles them is still understudy. They are obviously very naturally developed and used with meaning, as seen in young children. The major portion of the article is the discussion of many studies that try to reach a conclusion, but all fail so far.


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