In many tokens of palm-up gestures, interlocutors—and analysts—will need to assign meaning based on context in addition to form, and some tokens may be compatible with either an epistemic or presentational meaning. Figure 2. Examples of two gestures within the palm-up form family.
In English speakers, depicted here, these gestures prototypically involve different motion patterns. Palm-up epistemic gestures Left involve a lateral separation of the hands or a lateral movement of one hand , and are used to express epistemic meanings. Images reproduced under fair use. Again, while we aim to shed light on the entire palm-up form family, our particular focus in much of what follows is the epistemic variant. This is for a few reasons. Both types of palm-up gestures are common in spoken communication e. A likely reason for this difference is that the palm-up epistemic gesture has several highly conventional, readily glossable uses e.
Much research suggests that highly conventional gestures, including holophrastic emblems, are ripe for incorporation into sign systems Wilcox, ; Pfau and Steinbach, ; Spaepen et al. The palm-up presentational gesture, by contrast, is used to underline the presentational function of speech rather than replace speech, and does not appear to have an easily glossable, holophrastic meaning.
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Another reason for our focus on the palm-up epistemic is that it is perhaps the more puzzling of the two gestures. Though the palm-up presentational gesture is not as easily glossed, its meaning appears to be consistent across uses—it underlines the presentational aspect of speech. The palm-up epistemic, however, is widely associated with a seemingly disparate set of meanings beyond its most conventional ones.
Our division between palm-up epistemic gestures and palm-up presentational gestures makes all the more sense in light of a second sticking point in the literature: the shrug. Though this fact sometimes goes unmentioned, there is a clear affinity between the palm-up epistemic gesture and shoulder shrugs—indeed, the two commonly co-occur, and some have even considered them functionally interchangeable e.
Palm-up presentational gestures, meanwhile, have no such affinity with the shrug. As we will argue later, understanding the relationship between the shrug and the palm-up epistemic gesture may be critical to understanding the broader palm-up puzzle. A third and final sticking point concerns what kind of gestures palm-ups are. If researchers agree on anything, it is that palm-ups are interactional in nature—that is, they are not like pointing or depicting gestures that relate to the content of what is being described.
Evidently, they run the whole gamut: like emblems, they sometimes have a readily glossable meaning Johnson et al. With these sticking points in mind, we can now move to an overview of observations about palm-up forms, with a focus on the meanings that have been ascribed to the palm-up epistemic gesture.
Kendon's discussion characterizes how the gesture is used by English speakers in Britain and Italian speakers in Naples. Our focus, again, is on the first of these, the palm lateral, which corresponds most closely to what we term the palm-up epistemic gesture. Kendon distinguishes five uses of this variant: 1 unwillingness or inability on the part of the speaker; 2 that a proposition is obvious; 3 as part of a question that cannot or need not be answered i. Interestingly, Kendon does comment on the apparent affinity between certain of these uses and the shoulder shrug p.
She sees the PUOH as part of an extended family of gestures, but, unlike Kendon, she does not tease out major subdivisions of the family based on motion pattern. Thus, she sees PUOH gestures as fundamentally metaphorical in that they treat the abstract objects of discourse—propositions, ideas, questions, answers—like the physical objects of everyday life in that they can be held up, offered, requested, exchanged, and so on.
These senses include: 1 presenting an abstract object as visible or even obvious; 2 presenting an abstract object for joint inspection; 3 proposing a shared perspective on an abstract object. These include: 1 to plead for an abstract object; 2 to request an abstract object; 3 to express openness to the reception of some abstract object; 4 to express the fact of not knowing.
In some cases, this leads the two authors to different conclusions about what motivates the use of this form. Like Kendon, for instance, he notes the affinity of meaning between certain uses of the palm-up and the shrug. The only large-scale quantitative analysis of palm-up gestures to date comes from a study by Chu et al. They ascribe three primary uses to the palm-revealing variant: to express uncertainty, to express resignation, or to show that the speaker has nothing more to say.
Interestingly, more than other authors to date, Chu et al. Finally, they are notably cautious about the possibility of distinguishing these two types of palm-up gestures on the basis of form alone.
Finally, we turn to the most thorough analysis of a palm-up gesture in a non-European language—Syuba, a Tibeto-Burman language of Nepal Gawne, One of the most interesting aspects of this palm-up gesture—which we take to be a version of the palm-up epistemic gesture—as it is used by Syuba speakers is that it involves a distinctive handshape not reported elsewhere: the index finger and thumb are extended and the remaining fingers curled back into the palm to various degrees.
Moreover, the Syuba version does not prototypically involve a lateral movement of the hands, or any other distinctive motion pattern. Gawne also observes substantial variation in the gesture's form—it may involve one or two hands, more or less curling-in of the fingers, and a substantial hold or no hold at all. To the gesture in its co-speech uses, Gawne ascribes meanings of interrogativity, uncertainty , and—intriguingly— hypotheticality.
A number of other observations have been made across cultures about what appear to be uses of the palm-up epistemic gesture. Many are in-passing comments, but it is nonetheless striking that most of the uses of the gesture just discussed have also been described in other, often unrelated communities. Discerning such commonalities in meaning involves interpretation on our part, as researchers do not always use the same descriptors for different uses of the gesture.
This caveat aside, we group these observed uses into six meaning categories: absence of knowledge, ability, or concern ; uncertainty ; interrogatives ; hypotheticality ; obviousness ; and exclamatives Table 1 ; see also Appendix 1 in Supplementary Material for a reorganization of the same data, along with additional details from primary sources. As suggestive as the evidence is about the pervasiveness and recurring meanings of the palm-up epistemic, it also has limitations.
For one, many of these treatments do not include fine-grained descriptions of form, so we cannot be sure that the prototypical motion pattern of the gesture described earlier is found more broadly—in at least one case, a palm-up gesture with epistemic meanings uses a different prototypical form Gawne, Further, given that many of these sources do not attempt an exhaustive treatment of the gesture, the lack of mention of any particular meaning should not be taken as evidence that the meaning is absent from a community.
A final limitation of the literature is that, even among the extended treatments of the palm-up, quantitative methods are rare but see, e. Nevertheless, the widespread use and apparent semantic regularities in the palm-up epistemic are striking. A natural further question is whether the palm-up form is universally used to express these meanings—that is, is the palm-up epistemic gesture found in all communities? Any attempt to answer this question would be premature, and absolute universals are notoriously difficult to demonstrate.
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What we can say, however, is that use of the gesture to express a recurring set of meanings strongly suggests a that the meanings are related and b that the use of the palm-up form to express them is motivated. We revisit the puzzle presented by these observations later, after first considering comparable evidence from the palm-up in sign. The palm-up form in sign languages has also been widely studied.
Though this line of research often nods to possible relations between the gestural and signed uses of the form see, e. Several of the sticking points bedeviling work on palm-up forms in gesture are evident here, too—for instance, whether there is more than one form-meaning pairing at work, whether palm-ups are related to the shrug in some way, and how palm-ups should be classified.
This last sticking point takes on new significance in the sign literature because one's choice of terminology is bound up with fraught empirical and theoretical issues. Whether palm-ups are considered lexical items, discourse markers, or co-sign gestures has implications—not only for the analysis of this particular form—but for general questions about differences between sign and gesture e. In what follows, we focus on the most extended and focused discussions of palm-ups in sign; we begin with palm-ups in well-established sign languages and then turn to homesign systems.
One of the earliest in-depth treatments of the palm-up in sign is Conlin et al. The authors note that the form has clear lexical incarnations—such as in the signs WHAT and MAYBE—as well as uses as a discourse particle indicating uncertainty of different kinds. Depending on its position, the palm-up may also express indefiniteness, or uncertainty about the proposition as a whole, e.
Such uses of the palm-up thus allow one to sidestep conversational norms limiting contributions to those known to be true Grice, They link these uses to the broader theme of uncertainty; but, as discussed later, we group these with hypotheticals and other statements of possibility. Aboh et al. This sign form can also be used as a sentence-final discourse particle signaling hesitation and as an indefinite marker.
The interrogative and indefinite uses of the form also share other syntactic characteristics. Though G-WH is the only specifically interrogative sign in IndSL, it combines with other signs to express more specific interrogative meanings. This use of a specific word or morpheme to form paradigms of indefinite and WH-expressions is common across spoken languages. Like Conlin et al. Though this is not her goal, many of the uses she illustrates bear a clear relation to those identified in ASL and IndSL.
These include cases where the signer is expressing uncertainty or tentativeness, or is asking a question. However, it should also be noted that she describes a number of other uses for the palm-up that are hard to square with the observations of other sign researchers. A possible reason for this discrepancy is that Engberg-Pedersen explicitly treats presentational and epistemic uses of the palm-up under the same umbrella, in the same way that some gesture researchers do e.
Their data consist of a corpus of conversational signing, produced by 20 signers, totaling more than 5, signs. Following Engberg-Pedersen , the authors focus on the sequential positioning and functioning of the form rather than on its invariant meanings. However, they too note a number of uses for the form that align with those epistemic uses reported elsewhere, including: expressions of uncertainty, interrogatives, hypotheticals, expressions of obviousness, and exclamatives.
Two especially valuable sets of observations about epistemic uses of the palm-up come from studies of homesigners , profoundly deaf individuals raised without access to a conventional language e. The first of these is a study of an adult homesigner and her hearing associates from the Enga region of Papua New Guinea Kendon, Finally, he also observes that the form is used in certain contexts to express negation. The second set of observations focused on a child homesigner in the United States Franklin et al.
Three primary uses of the gesture were observed. A first was to mark questions [e. Of comparable frequency was the use of the flip as an exclamative—that is, to mark heightened affect. Finally, a rarer but intriguing use of the form turned up in David's expressions about location. In fact, as the authors observe, these three uses—interrogatives, exclamatives, and relatives—are tacitly connected in English and other spoken languages through their common use of interrogative words. A number of further observations have been made about what appears to be the palm-up epistemic in other signing communities Table 2 ; see Appendix 2 Supplementary Material for a reorganization of the same data, with additional details , though often in passing.
Most interesting for our purposes, these observations, taken together, touch on all of the meaning categories ascribed to the palm-up epistemic in co-speech gesture and discussed earlier: expressions of absence of knowledge, concern, or ability; expressions of uncertainty; interrogatives; hypotheticals; expressions of obviousness; and exclamatives for examples, see Figure 3. Several other meanings ascribed to the palm-up epistemic in sign do not have a clear counterpart in the existing gesture literature, however. For example, the use of the palm-up for indefinites someone, somewhere, somehow has been described in both ASL Conlin et al.
These uses may be closely related to the interrogative uses of the palm-up. After all, though not the case in English, it is common cross-linguistically for indefinite expressions to be formed out of question words Ultan, ; Haspelmath, , as noted above in the discussion of G-WH in IndSL. Further, several authors also note that the palm-up is used to express negation in certain contexts, a phenomenon observed in Turkish Sign Language Zeshan, b , Inuit Sign Language Schuit, , and Enga homesign Kendon, Finally, observations of the palm-up in ASL Conlin et al.
Thus, though the palm-up epistemic may be used for a wider set of meanings in sign than in gesture, these additional uses appear to be extensions of the interrogative meaning that is attested in gesture. In delving into the meaning of the palm-up epistemic in the next section, we focus on the six categories where there is clear attested overlap between gesture and sign. Figure 3. Examples of signs involving palm-up forms, taken from three unrelated sign languages. Signs in the left column have interrogative meanings; signs in the right column have other epistemic meanings, such as absence of knowledge.
Images reproduced with permission. On a cautionary note, there are limitations to the existing literature on the palm-up epistemic in sign, and these parallel the limitations of the gesture literature. For one, many of the observations collated above are drawn from brief mentions, and do not always include fine-grained descriptions of form.
It is thus unclear whether the palm-up epistemic in sign resembles the prototypical form of the gesture discussed earlier—indeed, beyond the core palm-up aspect of the form, there appears to be considerable variation across languages see Figure 3. Further, since interrogatives have become a topic of interest in sign language typology Zeshan, , a , a number of sources comment on the palm-up in this context without venturing observations about wider usage.
Finally, as in the gesture literature, there are only a handful of quantitative corpus treatments, making it difficult to assess, for instance, how commonly the palm-up is used to express the various meanings ascribed to it. Thus, as in gesture, further research is warranted. We now turn to the puzzle highlighted in our title. The broader puzzle concerns the meanings and origins of the entire palm-up form family. But a smaller and especially perplexing puzzle concerns the meanings and origins of the palm-up epistemic gesture in particular.
This second, smaller puzzle has two parts. First, how are the six superficially distinct meanings for the palm-up epistemic gesture related, if indeed they are? Second, why is this form used for these meanings? In this section, we take these questions in turn. Several of the meaning categories just discussed appear obviously connected, others less so. Why should we assume that these meanings are related in the first place? In making this assumption, we follow an inference commonly made in the study of linguistic polysemy: when one form covers the same meanings in different languages, there is most likely a conceptual link between those meanings, however distinct they may seem on the surface e.
Given that the palm-up epistemic is associated with each of the six meaning categories in more than one community, we thus assume there are conceptual links between these meanings. In trying to make sense of these links, we take inspiration from other accounts of cross-linguistic tendencies in meaning extension, such as Jurafsky's account of the sprawling meanings of diminutives.
Such accounts posit a core meaning and then show how other observed meanings can be understood as extensions from that core, or as extensions from extensions. Together these nodes and extensions comprise what might be called a meaning network. Rather, it is used to convey the absence of some inner state or attitude.
This meaning—which, for simplicity, we gloss as absence of knowledge —is among the most widely attested cross-linguistically, and each of the five other meaning categories ascribed to the palm-up can be considered extensions from this core. Here we discuss each of these extensions in turn, beginning with the more intuitive ones e.
We summarize this meaning network in Figure 4 , leaving aside for now meanings documented only in sign. Importantly, the fact that these extensions are attested across communities does not imply that the palm-up epistemic will exhibit all of these extensions in every community; it does imply, however, that communities will not skip over nodes in the network.
Figure 4. Proposed meaning network connecting the most broadly attested meanings of the palm-up epistemic in gesture and sign, with a core meaning of absence of knowledge, ability, or concern. The expression of absence of knowledge can take different forms. Such expressions of uncertainty can be conceptualized as a higher order absence of knowledge—that is, a lack of knowledge about one's own knowledge or belief. Linguistic hedges have been described as devices for distancing oneself from the truth or falsity of a proposition, giving language users the resources to express things that aren't quite true, aren't quite false, or aren't quite true or false Lakoff, Gestural hedges like the palm-up epistemic seem to perform the same function.
The uncertainty category may partially account for why palm-ups are highly frequent in corpus studies of signed communication—the form, among its other functions, seems to be a favored pragmatic hedge in some sign languages e. Another of the meaning categories most widely associated with the palm-up epistemic is interrogatives. While some authors describe the form as being associated with particular subtypes of questions e.
The link between absence of knowledge and interrogative meanings is perhaps intuitive. A question, after all, can be thought of as doing two things: first, implying that the questioner lacks relevant knowledge, and, second, putting it to the addressee to supply that knowledge Wierzbicka, ; Kendon, ; Franklin et al. Thus, much as the gesture may be used when the speaker is expressing absence of knowledge, it may also be used when the speaker is both expressing absence of knowledge and asking the interlocutor to supply that knowledge.
Interestingly, it is the interrogative uses of the palm-up epistemic that appear to be the best studied and documented in sign languages see Zeshan, ; Table 2 ; but whether the interrogative use is indeed the one most often lexicalized across sign languages remains a question for future work.
Interestingly, these and other uses of the palm-up epistemic appear to fall under the umbrella of irrealis e. But, importantly, the palm-up epistemic does not appear to be associated with the entire irrealis category—for example, there is no evidence for an association between palm-ups and imperatives. A meaning category that is less intuitively related to the absence of knowledge is obviousness. Indeed, this extension is, at first blush, puzzling: Why would the very same gestural form sometimes be used to convey a lack of certainty and, other times, to convey a conviction that something is so certain as to be obvious?
The use of the palm-up epistemic to express obviousness resembles a similarly counter-intuitive extension of gestural meaning observed in the case of headshakes: speakers commonly shake their heads while making extreme positive evaluations e. A possible explanation is that, in such cases, the speaker is rejecting an implicit assumption that something is ordinary or unremarkable. In a similar way, when using palm-ups to express obviousness, speakers may be reacting to an implicit assumption that more could or should be said—they are asserting that, in fact, they do not know more, do not care more, or are not able to say more.
Another account of the link between absence of knowledge and obviousness would consider it a less-direct extension, mediated by interrogative uses of the palm-up epistemic. Regardless of the extension path, this use of the gesture is distinct from the others discussed so far in that it expresses something about the speaker's affective state. Here the palm-up serves what is sometimes described as an expressive function e. Another meaning category less obviously connected to the others is exclamatives. As with the category of obviousness, there is something initially puzzling here.
Why would the same gesture be sometimes used to convey a lack of certainty or concern and, other times, to convey extreme certainty or concern? And, again, as with the category of obviousness, exclamative uses of the palm-up epistemic are fundamentally expressive. We interpret the association of palm-ups with exclamatives as an extension of their association with interrogatives.
This extension path parallels the cross-linguistically robust phenomenon in spoken languages whereby interrogative words are used to form exclamatives e. The precise semantic-pragmatic motivation for this repurposing of interrogative structures in exclamatives remains a matter of theoretical discussion e. These clear links to interrogatives notwithstanding, it should also be noted that exclamatives can be marked in a number of ways—that is, utterances with exclamative force are not uniformly couched in a particular structure. In a similar way, the palm-up epistemic gesture appears to be associated with exclamations generally e.
The meaning network just proposed crystallizes a hypothesis, one that remains to be tested and refined. Doing so will require more data—in particular, more detailed, systematic, quantitative analyses from across languages, both spoken and signed. Here we highlight several kinds of data that would be especially useful in assembling a clearer picture.
A first type of data that would be useful are observations over the lifespan, that is, developmental data. Knowing how children use the palm-up epistemic gesture initially, for instance, may shed light on its core meaning. Though we have proposed that the core of the gesture is absence of knowledge see also Kendon, ; Zeshan, , there are other possibilities. For instance, the gesture could have roots in the expression of external, objective absence, rather than absence of knowledge, ability, or concern.
Indeed, some observations suggest that this gesture may emerge before epistemic uses of the palm-up form e. Whether such observations contradict our proposal, however, is unclear. Such a convention may occasionally arise because objective absence is a more accessible meaning for young children than absence of knowledge. More cross-linguistic developmental data will be needed to explore this possibility. Developmental data would also shed light on particular paths of meaning extension. We would not necessarily expect children to use the palm-up for all of the attested meanings in the network—much as we would not expect all communities to use the palm-up for all meanings in the network—but, again, we would expect children not to skip over nodes in the network.
Thus, if our proposed path from absence of knowledge to interrogatives to exclamatives is correct, children may not use the palm-up epistemic exclamatively until they have already begun to use it interrogatively; in turn, they may not use it interrogatively until they have already begun to use it to express a lack of knowledge. In practice, such semantic extensions may be hard to detect because several meanings may emerge within a narrow time frame. And one recent study throws some valuable initial light on developmental changes in how palm-up forms are used.
She found that palm-up epistemic gestures were present in the youngest children, but that palm-up presentational gestures did not emerge until later ages. This finding is consistent with our suggestion that obviousness is an extension of absence of knowledge, and thus should emerge later. Further studies of the developmental changes in use of the palm-up form family would be valuable, including studies in different speaking communities and with even younger children.
Another important source of data would be additional studies with adult speakers and signers, both corpus-based and experimental. A corpus-based analysis using the categories of meanings described above, for instance, could shed light on which meanings are most common within and across languages. At present, our understanding of the relative prominence of these different meanings is sketchy at best, based largely on the number of communities in which they have been reported.
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Corpus studies may also reveal additional recurring meanings of the palm-up epistemic beyond the six we have focused on. There have already been several insightful corpus-based treatments of the palm-up in sign, but especially valuable would be further studies that compare use of the form in different sign languages using the same analytic criteria and theoretical framework.
Such an approach would be critical in distinguishing cross-linguistic patterns from language-specific particulars. Experimental studies in both speakers and signers would provide complementary insights.
Elicitation tasks would be helpful in discerning the strength of association between particular meaning categories and the palm-up epistemic. In gesturers, a well-devised elicitation task might tell us whether, for instance, speakers associate the gesture more strongly with expressions of absence of knowledge than with expressions of obviousness , as might be predicted from the fact that absence of knowledge is the proposed core. In signers, similar tasks could shed light on which uses of the palm-up epistemic are strongly tied to certain contexts—and thus, by hypothesis, are more grammaticalized—and which are less strongly tied—and thus are more gestural, or affective.
Judgment tasks with both groups could also be illuminating. Do listeners find palm-up epistemics in certain discourse contexts—or co-produced with certain words e. Such studies could shed crucial light on the shadings of meaning that palm-ups add when conjoined with certain kinds of discourse content or when produced in certain conversational positions.
The second part of the palm-up puzzle is why these meanings are associated with this form in particular. We assume there is indeed a motivation behind the pairing of these meanings with this form simply because of the recurrence of the pairing across communities. Oxford English Dictionary 3rd ed.
Oxford University Press. September Subscription or UK public library membership required. The New York Observer. Archived from the original on All Things Digital. UK Election Blog. The Guardian. Retrieved 28 Nov Oxford English Dictionary, n. Brosnan, Sarah Frances ed. Investigating whether Mandrills Create Social Culture". Quercus Publishing. Retrieved 1 September Digital Trends. Retrieved 19 March Retrieved TUS 9. In the palm of my hand. Today's Phrase If you say you have someone in the palm of your hand , it means you have total control over that person.
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