July 1, 2002


Volume 3, Issue 4 -- July/August 2002


The Verbal Self-Defense Newsletter is written and published every other month by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. (linguistics), author of the _Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense_ series, from the Ozark Center for Language Studies (OCLS); e-mail OCLS@madisoncounty.net. It's available by e-mail only, in plain text, and is free to members of the World Verbal Self-Defense League Network. To join the network and get the newsletter, send $5.00 (annual dues for the calendar year) to OCLS, PO Box 1137, Huntsville, AR 72740-1137 USA; please be sure to include your e-mail address with your check, money order, or credit card information. A sample issue is posted at http://adrr.com/aa. [Supporting Memberships are $15.00 a year.]


IN THIS ISSUE: Editor's Note; Network Input; Quotes & Comments; Forensic

Linguistics Update; Cyberstuff; Announcements; Touch Dominance Update


This is a tense and touchy world we're living in, always ready to flare up into physical violence and coercive force of every kind; it seems to me that the need for verbal self-defense skills is growing more urgent every day. We need verbal self-defense "literacy," for which _both_ sets of verbal self-defense skills -- those needed for establishing a language environment where hostile language is rare, and those needed for dealing with hostile language when it can't be avoided -- are indispensable. I'm grateful to all of you for your help in spreading the word. Thank you for your support, and for the materials you've been sending.


1. From Wib Smith: "How does one teach 6 to 7 year olds the techniques of verbal self-defense?"

The short answer to this question, for children of any age, is that you teach the verbal self-defense techniques by _modeling_ them. That is, when hostile language is flying around in the language environment and the kids are there, you use verbal self-defense techniques to defuse that language, head it off, respond to it, or whatever else is needed -- so the kids can see/hear/feel how it's done. One of the goals of verbal self-defense is to communicate in such a way that hostile language is _rare_ in your language environment; you use those techniques around the kids too, and your wholesome language behavior becomes part of the raw data they observe. They then learn the grammar of verbal self-defense in exactly the same way they would learn the grammar of fighting and being verbally abusive by observing adults do _that_. You don't take little kids and give them formal lessons in "how to construct and use relative clauses of English"; you use relative clauses of English around the kids, and they use their own language acquisition abilities to follow your example.

The rest of the answer is that far too many kids are now _without_ adequate adult models. They're alone in the house much of the time, or out with other kids, and they're rarely around adults that aren't tv characters or videogame characters. They get almost no opportunity to observe normal real-world communication among adults. And far too many children who _do_ have adult models are seeing only hostile and unwholesome language modeled.

Because that is the sorry situation, I'm finally writing a verbal self-defense book specifically for kids. I don't think this is the proper way for them to learn verbal self-defense, but I've come to the reluctant conclusion that it's necessary. If you have suggestions, they will be very welcome here; if any of you want to bring up the "poverty of stimulus" argument in this context, that would be useful.

2. My thanks to Kate Gladstone for writing to tell me that in the May/June issue's comment about John Taylor Gatto I spelled his name wrong. She is quite right; your Google search for his work will produce more and better hits if you type "John Taylor Gatto," not "Gotto."

3. I asked you to send proposals for a term meaning "a standard unit for measuring hostility in language" (comparable to the "erg" for measuring work, for example). Kate Gladstone proposed "bash"; now Meg Umans has suggested "ang," noting that it "feels like both anger and anguish." (I'm assuming she meant it to have the vowel sound in anger and anguish; that works nicely.)

The first thing you have to do when you want to actually use a new term in the real world is find out whether it already belongs to somebody else. (Linguists tend to ignore that step, so that we end up with words from the daily vocabulary like "competence" and "performance" used as technical terms in linguistics.) Appealing as "bash" is, it's already an English word (as in bashing someone over the head), which risks confusion; I went to Google and did a search to find out if that's also true for "ang." There are some acronyms -- Air National Guard, American Needlework Guild, that sort of thing -- but that's all right; the fact that those are in all capital letters would distinguish any "ANG" from the "ang." So far as I've been able to determine, the only use of lowercase "ang" in English is as an abbreviation for "angiotensis II RA" in lab tests. That's promising. I'd be pleased to have your comments, and more suggestions.

[Historical note: Long years ago, because people kept complaining about the unwieldiness of "the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" as a name for the system I teach, I went hunting for a replacement term. I hated the arrogance of any variant of "the Elgin system," not to mention the fact that although my husband is an Elgin, I'm not, and he wasn't involved in developing the system. I thought I'd found the perfect term when I found the word "syntonic"; it fit exactly. When two radio sets are so perfectly in tune with one another that they can be used for effective and efficient communication, they are said to be syntonic; the term comes originally from music theory. I proceeded to write a whole GAVSD book using "Syntonics"s the new name -- only to discover (after the book came out) that Neurolinguistic Programming had already claimed it, that it was a common term in mental health care, and that there were companies all over the world using it commercially. Syntonics gas stations, even. I will not trouble you with the details of the resulting mess, other than to say that I spent years having to use "the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense Syntonics" plus a disclaimer, while I phased the mess out. Take warning by me when you start naming things.]


1. One of the most dangerous -- and most effective -- ways to wreak havoc with language is in the wording of statistics; it's difficult for the average person to defend himself or herself against a trained statistician. The literature that's used to promote cholesterol drugs is one of the best examples, along with the disgraceful statistic claiming that "one in 9" women will get breast cancer while conveniently failing to mention how old a woman has to be before that kicks in. Here's Emma Young writing on the topic in the online _New Scientist_ for 6/4/02; the title is "Medical journal statistics potentially 'misleading'."

"Let's assume that patients who use aspirin have a five per cent risk of having a subsequent heart attack. An investigator is interested in comparing aspirin against a new drug. The study is done and it is found that patients taking the new drug have a four per cent risk of having a subsequent heart attack. The author typically reports that the drug lowers the risk of subsequent heart attack by 20 per cent. However, the absolute risk reduction is one per cent. If you were promoting the use of this drug, which statistic are you likely to use?"

Young is quoting researcher Jim Nuovo, who analyzed 359 articles reporting results of research trials in major medical journals from 1989-1998. All 359 articles included one of those "it lowers the risk 20 per cent" statistics. But only 8 reported "the number of people a doctor would need to treat before the drug prevented a bad outcome," and only 18 included the absolute risk reduction statistic. The piece is online at http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99992361.

2. In the days when _Psychology Today_ was a useful publication, it published an article by Jeffrey Z. Rubin titled "Psychological Traps." Rubin listed the essential characteristics of a successful trap. A trap, he wrote, must be tailored to its target, must be able to lure the quarry into behaving in a way that puts the quarry at risk, and has to be easy to get into but hard to get out of; the most effective traps will be designed so that the quarry's typical efforts to escape trap it even more tightly. [_Psychology Today_ for 3/81, pp. 52-63.]

This is exactly how the English Verbal Attack Patterns -- like "If you REALLY loved me, YOU wouldn't waste MONEY the way you do!" -- are put together. They are tailored to the "Only winning matters and losing is shameful" culture of American society, so that the quarry will feel forced to take the bait. They are baited with language aimed specifically at whatever the quarry is most likely to be defensive about and be hurt by -- for example, spending too much money. They are part of a set of scripts so familiar that getting into them is almost automatic; they are also scripts with a built-in escalation factor that makes them extremely difficult to get out of. And the harder the quarry fights back, the longer the fight goes on and the more tightly the quarry becomes trapped in the escalating hostile language. [If you're not familiar with the VAPs, an easy-to-get-to overview is at http://www.howthingswork.com/verbal self-defense.]

3. From "Why We Blow Ourselves Up: A Palestinian doctor explains why so many of his people want to be martyrs," by Eyad Sarraj, page 39, _Time_, 4/8/02:

"What propels people into such action is a long history of humiliation and a desire for revenge that every Arab harbors. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the resultant uprooting of Palestinians, a deep-seated feeling of shame has taken root in the Arab psyche. Shame is the most painful emotion in the Arab culture, producing the feeling that one is unworthy to live. The honorable Arab is the one who refuses to suffer shame and dies in dignity."

There _is_ a variety of shame that can heal, that can motivate someone to turn his or her life around. But that kind of shame comes from within; it dawns on the person -- sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly over time. It brings a realization of terrible wrong, and a fierce desire to make that wrong right. Shame that is imposed on someone from outside isn't like that. It works for the good once in the proverbial blue moon, when the context is exactly right and the shamer has great wisdom. You cannot imagine how rarely those two conditions are met at the same time.

4. You will be familiar with my opposition to the hypothesis that female human beings are innately and inherently kind and gentle and cooperative, while male human beings are innately and inherently callous and aggressive and competitive. Recently, praise be, there has begun to be a trickle of articles reporting that this concept may not be valid after all; with those articles I am also seeing some material that makes me nervous. You might look at "Taming the Teen Queen Bee," by Amy Dickinson, page 90 of _Time_ for 4/13/02. Here's a sample:

"[Mothers] should caution their girls against using incendiary language, which is a huge temptation with IM-ing; the word slut is the current favorite pejorative. Girls who know exactly what the rules are will get that 'my mom is going to kill me' feeling in their gut when they're going astray."

The article proposes a lengthy confrontational technique (attributed to Rosalind Wiseman) for girls who are targets of hostile language from other girls, including writing down an exact account of what happened, explaining the complaint to the "primary perpetrator," presenting logical reasons for changing that behavior, and so on. Wiseman says that "mean girls will often back down in the face of such certitude." I'm uneasy about this. What verbal abusers want is attention, ideally with an emotional reaction that serves as evidence of their power to get and hold that attention. The standard policy in American mainstream culture -- respond to verbal attacks by counterattacking, pleading, or debating -- provides that attention, and rewards the abusive behavior. It seems to me that the strategy described in this article is a form of debating, and that it would be very satisfying to a verbally abusive girl. Not as satisfying as a screaming fight, of course, but acceptable. Let me know what you think, please.


As is true for any subfield, forensic linguistics means different things to different people. Roughly speaking, it is the linguistics/legal-system/judicial-system interface -- with obvious relevance for verbal self-defense, both spoken and written. (A googlesearch with "forensic linguistics" as the search term will take you to resources of all kinds, in abundance.)

1. On Linguist List for 6/7/02, Dr Janet Cotterill announced an International Summer School in Forensic Linguistic Analysis, to be held in the UK on 9/15-20/02, Her descriptions of the course offerings go a long way toward explaing what forensic linguists is. Here's a summary, heavily edited for space; for more detailed information about the summer school you would contact Cotterill -- cotterillj@cardiff.ac.uk / Fax +44 (0) 2920 874242.

**Introduction to Forensic Linguistics examines "methods linguists have for resolving questions of authorship, including plagiarised texts, suicide notes, threatening letters and disputed police interview records"; spoken legal discourse, including 911/999 emergency calls and courtroom language; analysis of "a series of texts designed for the layperson, such as the police caution and jury instructions." **Introduction to Forensic Interpreting "will address the role of the foreign language interpreter in the legal process, including police interviews, lawyer-client interaction and courtroom interpreting." **Introduction to Forensic Handwriting Analysis will deal with: (1) the forged signature, and (2) disguise in continuous text handwriting. **[An unnamed course] "will deal with children in the legal process... in contexts such as the police interview and the courtroom."

2. For much useful and relevant information, I recommend _The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony_, by Gisla H. Gudjonsson (John Wiley & Sons NY, 1992). For example....

On page 14 (in the section titled "Interviewing: Basic Principles and Theory"), Gudjonsson discusses a study by Loftus and Palmer in which people watched films of car accidents and then were questioned about the events in the films. "It was found that the subjects' responses could be markedly altered by changing the verb in a sentence. For example, when the subjects were asked to estimate the speed of the cars that collided, the speed estimated was consistently highest when the verb 'smashed' was used instead of 'collided,' 'hit,' 'bumped,' or 'contacted.' "

On page 192 (in the section titled "Psychological Techniques for Evaluating Testimony and Documents): "Stylometrics, or 'statistical stylistics'...is the branch of psycholinguistics and literary studies that attempts to quantitatively identify the ways in which the writings, or spoken words, of one individual differ from those of another. ...."

On pages 199-200 (same section): " 'Statement reality analysis' is a semi-objective technique for assessing the truthfulness of a witness statement. This technique was invented by a well known German psychologist, Udo Undeutsch, whose work in the area of alleged sexual abuse has revolutionized the way the judicial system in Germany and Sweden deal with these types of cases." [And, with regard to the theoretical assumptions of Undeutsch] "The third basic assumption...is that the recall of real events differs from fititious accounts in terms of the structure, content and quality."

This book is intended to be helpful to the legal, judicial, and law enforcement professionals who do all the interrogating; that's useful. I also recommend it for anyone who is facing an interrogation of any kind, as a way of learning how to construct your responses. A lot of information from forensic linguistics trickles down through the media and ends up in magazine articles in the form of lists with titles like "14 Language Clues That Tell You When Somebody Is Lying." This is just as bad as it sounds; it's a grave misuse of the information. But it's out there. Verbal self-defense for anyone being interrogated or cross-examined -- whether in a livingroom or in a courtroom -- includes rigorously avoiding all such "language clues."

3. Here's a scrap from the Table of Contents of the _Handbook On Questioning Children: A Linguistic Perspective, 2nd Edition_, by Anne Graffam Walker (published in 1999 by the ABA Center on Children and the Law), sent to me by Moonyean. I'm posting it FYI, since I haven't read it; however, although judging a book by its cover is unreliable, you should be able to judge by the Table of Contents, and this one doesn't motivate me.

"II. Principles ...
3. Children and adults do not speak the 'same' language...
5. Inconsistency in children's statements is normal...
12. Children's responses to your questions are not necessarily answers to your questions....

"VI. Why are there inconsistencies in children's testimony?: A few language-related reasons

1. Children may be both speaking and responding to your questions in a literal way...
2. Children may change their answers under repeated questioning...
3. Different questions by different questioners in different surroundings may elicit different details...
7. Adult assumptions about what children mean can create inconsistencies that don't exist... ...."

4. My thanks to Hal Davis for a copy of an article on using the sensory modes when talking to juries, with Neurolinguistic Programming as its context: "Images, Sounds & Feelings: It Takes All Three To Communicate With The Jury," by Sylvia Hsieh," in _Lawyers Weekly USA_ for 6/10/02. You can find it online in the archives at http://www.ohiolawyersweekly.com. It presents the usual basics: People prefer to process information using one of the three sensory systems of sight or hearing or touch; their language will offer clues to which system they prefer; for maximum effect, lawyers should cater to those preferences. Those who are touch dominant, it says, "want to touch the bloody sock."

While I'm here.... For a detailed and useful and well-written book on communicating with juries, I recommend the book _Persuasive Jury Communication: Case Studies from Successful Trials_, by attorney Fred Wilkins (McGraw-Hill 1994); ISBN 0-07-172595-4. [Conflict of interest disclosure: the author is my brother.]

5. From Tod Maffin's Future File for 3/7/02: "The software maker SAS Institute has developed a text-mining system that allows large quantities of text to be scanned, categorized and analyzed. And it can spot a lie! Although originally developed to allow firms to speed up the rate at which inbound e-mail and letters can be processed, SAS said it has discovered the technology also can be used to tackle a wide variety of situations in which a writer is acting fraudulently or lying. Details at http://www.technews.com/news/02/173829.html."

Along the same lines, Tia Johnson alerted me to a company called Utopy, which claims to be able to spot not only lies but emotions, intentions, etc. I went to their website (http://www.utopy.com) and found the material quoted below, but little else. It's a commercial site, and I understand that it's not there to provide free information, but an example or two would have helped; Utopy.com strikes me as far too Bushian in the way it withholds information.

"Intent Analysis

There are many ways for humans to express intent in the things they say. Utopy SpeechMiner uses unique statistical language modeling technology to understand all the possible variations of intent. SpeechMiner can also use customer information stored in external systems as meta-data, to better interpret the intent behind a topic."

"Extracting Non-linguistic Information Utopy SpeechMiner extracts audio information, such as pitch modulation and speech rate, to assist the determination of the emotion of the speaker. ..."

6. Behind commercial applications like those in #5, there is linguistics research (usually unacknowledged). For an example that has lots of useful information without being incomprehensibly technical, go to http://www.essex.ac.uk/speech/pubs/spruce/windermere98/intonation/intassign. html and read "Assignment of Intonation in a High-Level Speech Synthesiser," by Mark Tatham, Katherine Morton and Eric Lewis. You'll find paragraphs like the one below, plus definitions of terms and concise explanations of basic concepts.

"For both speakers and listeners there is a clear baseline of expectation for intonation - a norm or neutral representation which can be modified in special cases for adding emotional or intentional content to the message being conveyed [5] [6]. Categories such as these, though often defined according to linguistic function rather than in terms of physical parameters, are used by many researchers, notably in recent times Pierrehumbert [7] and Siverman et al. [8]. The concept of neutral intonation has been discussed by a number of researchers, notably Monaghan [9], usually in terms of an acceptable intonation for synthesis constrained in range and rate of change to minimise the impact of error. This is good practice in the design of the prosodic part of a tts system. However we introduce the idea of neutrality on a theoretical basis. We are explicitly modelling the system as a two level process involving a basic neutral intonation and overlays for special effects. So, we introduce the concept of neutrality not for practical reasons, but as an important part of our theory."

-- continued -- [The newsletter is sent out in two parts for ease of use with newsreaders with bit count limits]

7. From "Lasting effects of abuse," by Kevin Lambat, _Dayton Daily News_ for 6/25/01 (sent by Hal Davis):

"When a child is seriously hurt or terrified, the pain doesn't just produce a traumatic memory. It changes the developing brain. ... 'We know it happens because we've seen it in our patients,' said Dr. Jerald Kay, who chairs the psychiatry department at Wright State University's School of Medicine. They've also seen data that abused children are more likely to suffer from depression, drug abuse and other chronic ailments as adults. 'But we've never had the biological evidence to show the theory was true.' Now they're getting it, largely through sophisticated X-rays of adult brains and Paul Plotsky's research... at Emory University in Atlanta." To read the article, go to http://www.activedayton.com/ddn/life/0625abuse.html; highly recommended.


1. The 4/02 issue of _The Teachers .Net Gazette_ had an article by Kathy Noll titled "Bullies: Tips for teachers being bullied!" Including: "If someone refuses to listen to you, or becomes verbally abusive, walk away. Ignoring a bully takes away his/her power they think they have over you. When they see they are no longer 'getting to you,' their control game is over." (The bullies being referred to here are other adults -- colleagues, administrators, associates.)

It may be that Noll's message has been badly distorted by an editor; that happens. If not, Noll and I would have to agree to disagree. Ignoring a bully's verbal abuse -- in the sense of standing your ground and refusing to respond to it with what the bully wants -- does cancel the bully's power. For sure. However, walking away is bad strategy. It works even moderately well only if the bully's targeted victim is supremely confident and is absolutely indifferent to the hostile language; such people are not the chosen targets of bullies. Almost always, the body language that goes with walking away doesn't make the bully think "Darn, I'm not getting to this person!" On the contrary; walking away looks like fleeing, looks like being upset and distressed, looks like being at a loss for anything to say, and feeds the bully's need for an emotional reaction. It's not quite triumph, but it's close; it encourages the bully to follow the fleeing target and try again.

As for ignoring the bully himself or herself -- ignoring not the language but the person -- that fuels the kind of rage that festers and provokes the worst kind of escalation; the metamessage that goes with ignoring the bully as a person is "You're so much less than a real human being that I don't even acknowledge that you exist." It's a shaming technique; it's safe only if you can be positive about two important items: (a) that you'll never have to interact with the bully in question again, and (b) the bully won't just go down the hall and take out his or her anger about the shaming on somebody else. [The article is at http://teachers.net/gazette/APR02/noll.html.

2. I recommend "Metaphors We Compute By," by John Lawler, at www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler. Lawler runs through a set of possible ways to finish "A computer is a(n)....." and discusses each one, plus doing some metaphor basics while he's there.

3. And I recommend -- for different reasons -- an article from the 3/15/00 issue of _The Onion_ sent to me by Douglas Dee. It's "Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum" (without a byline, at http://www.theonion.com/onion3609/nasal_learners.html). Sample:

"Nasal learners often have difficulty concentrating and dislike doing homework. .... They also frequently have low grades in math, reading, and science. If your child fits this description, I would strongly urge you to get him or her tested for a possible nasal orientation." The Scholastic Scents company promises "scratch-and-sniff textbooks" and "Speak & Smell language workshops." Very fragrant article. Thank you, Douglas.

4. For an article on the link between verbal abuse and the nursing shortage, go to "Nursing Wounds: When arrogant docs drive nurses away, patients suffer," by Josh Fischman; at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/010617/health/17nurse.htm.

5. YourDictionary.com has posted a set of terrorism glossaries that I recommend _very_ enthusiastically. I printed out the Glossary of Current Events (with an Islamic Calendar Converter included); it offers annotated definitions for every sort of term being used in speaking and writing about terrorism. The glossaries are on links at http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/ydglos..html. Indispensable, in my opinion. If you see any definitions or notes that appear to be misleading or in error, please let me know.

6. Some sites to check out.... Eracism information at http://clinton3.nara.gov/initiatives/OneAmerica/Practices/pp_19980810.15582. html; article claiming that women law enforcement professionals are "less brutal," at http://www.womenandpolicing.org (sent by Hal Davis); nonverbal communication course study guide at http://www.courses.psu.edu/spcom/spcom470_mlh10/studyguide2.html; material on Nonverbal Learning Disorder, at http://members.aol.com/doder1/nld1.htm; "Jargon 101: Pardons and Punditry," at http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20010409.html (sent by Erin Palicki); article on suppression of information about U.S. nonlethal weapons, at http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99992254; Harvard Project Zero, on multiple intelligences, at http://surfaquarium.com/im.htm; "Wary Words on Social Security," at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentid=A3 492-2002May10&notFound=true (sent by Erin Palicki, who is not responsible for that horrible URL); "AMA Adopts Anti-Bully Measure," at http://apnews.excite.com/article/20020620/D7K8IUGOO.html (sent by Linda Eldredge).


1. I will be at Conestoga (science fiction convention) in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July, and will be doing a free two-hour verbal self-defense workshop there. (That is, it will be free to all convention participants.) If you'd like additional information, please let me know.

2. We have a special offer this month on the hardcover edition of my Abbeville Press book, _The Grandmother Principles_: $8.00 each, plus $3.50 shipping for one copy; shipping charges for additional copies, 50 cents each. The book is handsome; the cover was actually done in needlepoint and then photographed, the printing is very nice, there are lots of cartoons -- and I included as much verbal self-defense instruction as my editors were willing to let me get away with. Lots of information on communicating across the generation gap. It makes a very nice gift, and is an ingenious way to announce a pregnancy. You can look it over at amazon.com or bn.com. I know I wrote it; nevertheless, I recommend it. Orders, or requests for more information, should go to OCLS, PO Box 1137, Huntsville, AR 72740-1137.

3. I am getting ready to start a marketing project in the form of a free monthly e-mail "bulletin," no more than a paragraph long, and ending with subscription information for the newsletter. If you'd like to be on the subscription list, or you know someone else who would, please let me know. I can't promise that material won't overlap; for that (and other obvious reasons) you may prefer not to see it. It won't be sent to any member who hasn't specifically requested it.

4. The Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender has announced its annual conference, to be held October 3-6, 2002, in Minneapolis. The theme will be "Out of the Past and Into the Future." For details, contact Dr. Barbara Lynn Werner, Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, 410 South 3rd Street, River Falls, WI 54002.


[To New Members: A strong preference for the sensory system of touch is a communication disability in mainstream U.S. culture. Sight and hearing dominant people dominate our society, and everything to do with touch -- including its language -- is looked down on, leading to much interpersonal misunderstanding and conflict. We don't ask sight dominant kids to learn without looking, or hearing dominant kids to learn without listening, but touch dominant children constantly hear "Don't touch!" and "Keep your hands to yourself!" It's not surprising that they so often grow up hard to get along with. For this reason, we reserve space for touch dominance material in this newsletter.]

1. From "Brain Gets Rest When Hands Do Talking" [Now there is a touch language title!], by John O'Neil, _NY Times_ fo 12/4/01:

"Talking with your hands appears to take some of the load off your brain, a new study concludes." Subjects were given a multi-step task. They solved math problems; they memorized a list of items; they were asked to explain how they had done the math problems; they were tested on their recall of the memorized list; they were asked again to explain how they'd done the math, this time while keeping their hands still on a tabletop; finally, they were tested again on the memorized list. The researchers found that when people who were allowed to gesture they remembered an average of 29 percent more items than when they were not. "...[T]he purpose of asking them to explain their math reasoning was to increase their cognitive load -- the amount of work their brain had to do in addition to remembering the list of items."

The researcher believes that the study (Susan Goldin-Meadow, _Psychological Science_, 11/01) suggests that gesturing reduces the cognitive load of explanation. That may be right. (I assume they made a statistical adjustment for the fact that the final test on the memorized list was a second try.) However, I would also suggest that the effort of holding the hands still while explaining would interfere drastically with the communication process; it may be that this variable is discussed in the original study but was left out of the newspaper article.

2. My recommendations for a long and interesting book review on LinguistList (http://linguistlist.org) for 6/9/02 of Karen Emmorey's _Language, Cognition, and the Brain: Insights from Sign Language Research_ (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2002). Here's the opening paragraph:

"Language, Cognition, and the Brain (LCB) includes an Introduction, eight chapters, an Epilogue, two appendices (one on handshapes in American Sign Language (ASL), another on communication forms in Nicaragua), an impressive bibliography (40 pages), and two indices (author and subject). True to its subtitle, LCB is about what sign languages can teach us about the nature and properties of language, the structure of cognition, and the workings of the brain."

3. My thanks to Kathe Rauch for a copy of "Simple gestures: A student devises an easier sign language," by Leef Smith, _News & Observer_ for 5/81/01. The story is about pre-med student Nikki Kasane's project to develop a simple set of signs to be used by nonspeaking children and adults with physical impairments. The best way to get an overview of this project is to go to Kasane's website (http://www.people.virginia.edu/~nak9k/signs). I'd welcome your input on this.

4. You can get a long list of links to touch-project articles (on "tactile user interfaces") by going to http://www.cs.uta.fi/hci/TUI/links/articles.htm. Some of the titles: "An Experiment on the Influence of Haptic Communication on the Sense of Being Together"; "Force and Tactile Feedback"; "Putting the Feel in 'Look and Feel'"; "The Sensual Computer: High Touch, High Tech"; "Shape Perception of 3D Virtual Objects by Tactile Feedback Systems." (Note: I got to this list of links -- and a lot more good touch material -- by following the links of a Google search using "haptic interfaces research articles" as my search phrase.)

5. Science has once again discovered that mental use of muscles, done properly, has the same benefits that "real" use of muscles in "real" exercise provides. See a short piece titled "Mental gymnastics: Want better pecs? Lie back and think of the bench press," by Philip Cohen, page 24, _New Scientist_ for 11/24/01. Here's the opening: "Just imagining yourself exercising can increase the strength of even your large muscles. The discovery could help patients too weak to exercise.... And if the technique works in older people, they might use it to help maintain their strength." (I don't get that "if the technique works in older people" comment; why wouldn't it?) This "discovery" has been around for decades, reported originally in the sports medicine literature; Cohen doesn't bring in the essential fact that the more vivid the imagining is, the greater the effect. I recommend reading it nevertheless, for the description of the study being reported. Thanks to Frances Green for the copy.

6. Recommended -- the "Gesture Research in Music" website, at http://www.ircam.fr/equipes/analyse-synthese/wanderle/Gestes/Externe. All sort of good things here ... "Trends in Gestural Control of Music" .... "Gestures -- Theory" ... "Designing musical instruments that performers can _handle_" .... references and bibliography (more than 500 entries). Much fun; much information. In both French and English.

Copyright © 2002 Suzette Haden Elgin

All rights reserved


TO JOIN A NETWORK AND RECEIVE ITS NEWSLETTER: Send newsletter title, your e-mail address, and your check, money order, or credit card information (for Visa or Mastercard) to OCLS, PO Box 1137, Huntsville, AR 72740-1137 USA. E-mail newsletters by Suzette Haden Elgin for 2002 are: _The Linguistics & Science Fiction Newsletter_; _The Religious Language Newsletter_; and _The Verbal Self-Defense Newsletter_. Each $5.00 a year ($15.00 Supporting) for the six issues of the calendar year, by e-mail only, advertising-free. For more information or a free sample issue, send an e-mail request to OCLS@madisoncounty.net.

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