J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Language and Gesture Revisited

Professor Kita's research does not lie well with the general "Naclanian" theory promoted by this blog: that the Japanaese are imago-centric. If they were, one would expect them to gesture the movements of objects as those objects appear, rather than be influenced by their language.

It is important to remember, however, that: while these gestures were made while speaking the majority of Japanese speakers (e.g. almost two thirds in the swing experiment) were indeed unaffected by their lack of a verb to swing, and that both of Professor Sota's experiments used movements for which the Japanese lacks a suitable movement verb, which is present in English.

What would happen in the reverse situation, where English lacks an appropriate movement verb? The animation above shows one such situation. In English the verb usually used for downwards motion under the effect of gravity, whether straight down or to the side, is "fall down". Japanese distinguishes these verbs, where "ochiru" is to fall straight down, and "taoreru" is to fall down sidewise like the man in the above animation (right click for menu to replay, or refresh screen).

I hypothesise that more than one third of English speakers would gesture these two events in the same way (if they were not shown side by side), since English speakers are even more influenced by the impact of their language (as was also indicated in Professor Sota's research, 2009).

As an aside, I also predict, in line with the Sapir-Worph hypothesis and recent research (Boroditski, 2001; Imai and Masuda, in Press) and others that that English speakers would see more similarity in the the movement of the bottle and the man that Japanese speakers.

Kita, S. (2009). Cross-cultural variation of speech-accompanying gesture: A review. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 145–167. doi:10.1080/01690960802586188 Imai, M., & Masuda, T. (in Press). The Role of Language and Culture in Universality and Diversity of Human Concepts. Retrieved from http://www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/ImaMasudaAdvancesCulturePsychology2012FINAL.pdf Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought?: Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive psychology, 43(1), 1–22.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.