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Gestures in native Mexico and Central America

Brown, P. (2014). Gestures in native Mexico and Central America. In C. Müller, A. Cienki, E. Fricke, S. Ladewig, D. McNeill, & J. Bressem (Eds.), Body -language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction. Volume 2 (pp. 1206-1215). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
The systematic study of kinesics, gaze, and gestural aspects of communication in Central American cultures is a recent phenomenon, most of it focussing on the Mayan cultures of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. This article surveys ethnographic observations and research reports on bodily aspects of speaking in three domains: gaze and kinesics in social interaction, indexical pointing in adult and caregiver-child interactions, and co-speech gestures associated with “absolute” (geographically-based) systems of spatial reference. In addition, it reports how the indigenous co-speech gesture repertoire has provided the basis for developing village sign languages in the region. It is argued that studies of the embodied aspects of speech in the Mayan areas of Mexico and Central America have contributed to the typology of gestures and of spatial frames of reference. They have refined our understanding of how spatial frames of reference are invoked, communicated, and switched in conversational interaction and of the importance of co-speech gestures in understanding language use, language acquisition, and the transmission of culture-specific cognitive styles.
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