La Trobe
Gawne 2018 preprint.pdf (16.16 MB)

Contexts of use of a rotated palms gesture among Syuba (Kagate) speakers in Nepal

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posted on 2021-12-15, 23:04 authored by Lauren GawneLauren Gawne
In this paper I examine the use of the ‘rotated palms’ gesture family among speakers of Syuba (Tibeto-Burman, Nepal), as recorded in a video corpus documenting this language. In this family of gestures one or both forearms are rotated to a supine (‘palm up’) position, each hand with thumb and forefinger extended and the other fingers, in varying degrees, flexed toward the palm. When used independently from speech this gesture tends to be performed in a relatively consistent manner, and is recognised as an interrogative gesture throughout India and Nepal. In this use it can be considered an emblem. When used with speech it shows more variation, but can still be used to indicate the interrogative nature of what is said, even when the speech may not indicate interrogativity in its linguistic construction. I analyse the form and function of this gesture in Syuba and argue that there are a number distinct functions relating to interrogativity. These can therefore be considered as a family of gestures. This research lays the groundwork for a better understanding of this common family of gestures across the South Asian area, and beyond.


My thanks to the Syuba (Kagate) community for sharing the enthusiasm for their language with me. Particular thanks to Sangbu Syuba and Ningmar Tamang for their assistance. Funding for the documentation of Syuba came from to Stack Exchange, The Awesome Foundation (Ottawa), The Firebird Foundation, Nanyang Technological University, and The Endangered Language Documentation Programme (ELDP). Many thanks to these organisations for their support. Thank you to Brandon Bodhi Denton of Woven Earth ( for the use of the image in Figure 1, and Ningmar Tamang for the use of the image in Figure 5. An earlier version of this analysis was presented at ISGS7 in Paris, thanks to audience members for their questions and suggestions. Particular thanks to Connie de Vos, who alerted me to interrogative structures of Indo-Pakistani Sign. Thanks also to Mandana Seyfeddinipur and Chelsea Krajcik for early discussions. I feel incredibly privileged to be amongst the last to have the good fortune to thank Adam Kendon for his keen editorial eye.


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28p. (p. 37-64)


John Benjamins



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