The following is a litany of Wikipedia posts about gestures and gestural language. The three things the article says are
- gesture is a very primal form of communication, evolved as language before spoken language
- gesture is culturally specific, so different cultures use different gestures differently, and though gesture itself is used universally, there is no universal gestural language (as yet).
- gesture is very good for language learning and acquisition, retention, and depth of understanding.
Language is thought by some scholars to have evolved in Homo sapiens from an earlier system consisting of manual gestures. The theory that language evolved from manual gestures, termed Gestural Theory, dates back to the work of 18th-century philosopher and priest Abbé de Condillac, and has been revived by contemporary anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes, in 1973, as part of a discussion on the origin of language.
A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication in which visible bodily actions communicate particular messages, either in place of, or in conjunction with, speech. Gestures include movement of the hands, face, or other parts of the body. Gestures differ from physical non-verbal communication that does not communicate specific messages, such as purely expressive displays, proxemics, or displays of joint attention.
In 1992, David Mcneill, a professor of linguistics and psychology at the University of Chicago, wrote a book based on his ten years of research and concluded that “gestures do not simply form a part of what is said, but have an impact on thought itself.” Meltzoff argues that gestures directly transfer thoughts into visible forms, showing that ideas and language cannot always be express.
Gestures have been shown to be a useful tool in teaching a foreign language. The enactment effect can be used in second language teaching in order to learn a language more efficiently, faster, and to prevent forgetting. Various studies have shown that the use of gestures while learning new words improves recall and retention. The enactment effect in second language learning could be shown in children as well as adults. Not only does enactment improve memorization, but also the use of words in speech production. Using gestures while learning is helpful in learning concrete words as well as abstract words such as “change” or “difference”. Studies supported this claim in showing that abstract words were better remembered when a gesture was used while encoding.
In more recent studies, researchers have been trying to find the neurological explanation of the enactment effect, and the reason why memory is enhanced after enactment. It was shown that not mere physical motor information leads to the enactment effect, but that the semantic content of the gesture plays a role as well. Iconic gestures enhance memory compared to meaningless gestures which have no positive effect on memorization. Event-related potentials showed that enactment leads to deeper processing of new information, eliciting the assumption that by using gestures, the meaning of the new word is connected with an already existing concept in one’s native language.
In conclusion, the use of gestures in Empatharian creates a learning advantage and a deeper embodiment of the communication. As a “sign language” Empatharian is an iconic form and a complete language, at least in theory. There are gestural languages used as performative spiritual practice in India where they have over 900 words, and have enacted plays such as Shakespeare and other modern works. These can be models for Empatharian language development, and we will learn their gestures to enrich ours.
Just because there has never been an intentionally created gestural language/sign language, doesn’t mean that, with care and input, we cannot create one. We are creating the language as a vehicle for universal understanding and cultural exchange where we all can benefit.