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This question was triggered by What does the gesture to touch the side of your nose with a forefinger mean? but it is generally referring to any question about gestures.

Are those questions on-topic on EL&U?
To me, they don't seem on-topic, in the same way questions about sign language are not on-topic. The reason is that the question is not about English language, and without a specific context being given, in some cases there are more than one possible answer.

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I'd like to throw a few thoughts on the matter, although for now I'm not sure whether we should accept or not.

Gestures are certainly an important part for communicating, as much as intonation or body movement. The intonation field is treated in Linguistics studies, for example.

Anyway, there are some gestures that are international, but some are peculiar to a given nation and some of them even only to certain regions. But even though all of these are important in helping the utterance having its desired effect on the interlocutor, they might get interpreted and that's the problem.

I think that most of them might generate discussions and debates. I'd add them to the "on-topic park" but first we have to consider that they're not a definite field, at least for some of them. And even grammar, that is kind of stricter and more definite, generates debates sometimes.

So, should we consider as on-topic questions like:

  1. What is the English gesture to convey [message]?
  2. In our country X we have this, what is the English equivalent?
  3. What's the difference in doing this gesture in U.S. or UK?

... etc.

  • 2
    Still, the three examples you made are not about English, but they are about culture. To speak English, I need to know English grammar, pronunciation, and which contexts a phrase is used. – kiamlaluno Sep 9 '11 at 10:08
  • Well, to speak enough English... Real proficiency is achieved also through mastering the other fields, in my opinion. People will understand you, sure, but if you use different gestures or you're not good with the intonation, you will be speaking less English (and they will notice it). :D I know this sounds philosophical. I am just saying that we shouldn't underrate the gesture thing, but rather think about it... – Alenanno Sep 10 '11 at 9:41
  • Intonation is included with the pronunciation. Are you saying that if you don't use gestures, you are not understood from a native speaker? I don't think that is true, as native speakers don't always use gestures (I have never seen Americans making gestures when speaking to a customs officer). Are you saying that they will notice you are not a native speaker for the simple fact you don't make gestures? No; they will know you are not a native speaker simply for the fact you will never speak as a native speaker, and a native speaker can always notice the difference. – kiamlaluno Sep 10 '11 at 10:14
  • No, I didn't say you can't be understood. I'm saying they will notice thew difference also for those small details. I don't think it's impossible to acquire a good accent, anyway. Just think about how many people speak perfect italian and you discover they're not italian just because they tell you so. :D – Alenanno Sep 10 '11 at 10:33
  • Somebody could notice you are not a native speaker simply for the fact you don't know what Walmart is; still, not knowing that doesn't mean not knowing English. It is always possible to know if a person is a native speaker, if that person says enough words; if the only thing that person says is ciao, then it is not possible to know if that person is a native speaker. – kiamlaluno Sep 10 '11 at 11:26
  • I meant after being talking to those people for quite a long time, not just for "Ciao". Otherwise in that case I'd agree with you. – Alenanno Sep 10 '11 at 11:29
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I immediately thought it was off-topic and was about to post the following comment there:

Gestures are off-topic. They are a form of limited communication, but barely language and it's not even part of a sign language. They are not connected in anyway with English language, though particular ones may be associated with particular English culture. Even so, there is nothing connecting them with English as a language.

But on reflection, I have the usual misgivings. It is an interesting question; it -is- about communication; the question is substantive; where else could one imagine a question like that being asked and answered so well; the question and existing answers are already high voted.

None of these reasons are part of the ELU mandate, they're all secondary. And there are other questions that meet all of these too but are easily closable.

I like this question and it's not frivolous or poor or badly intended. But it's very questionable.

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If the gesture in question is made by an English speaking person, I think it falls easily into the scope of this site. If a word is spoken, written, hand signed or gestured, it's still a word. I'm not saying we should open up to all ASL, that could be an entire site, but gestures made by English speakers would probably fit here better than anywhere else on the web.

  • Just because it could fit doesn't mean every topic has a home on SE – simchona May 30 '12 at 16:04

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