BACKGROUND

"Gestures are a silent language unique to every society," says Dane Archer, professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. People use gestures to express aggression, friendship, sexuality, and anger. Anyone who has traveled to a foreign country, or has been acquainted with a foreigner, has probably noticed that gestures vary widely with geographic boundaries. Archer decided to compile a collection of the many and varied gestures of the world, but wondered how to do it without traveling across the globe.

Archer realized that he did not need to voyage out into the world to gather his information: the world comes to the United States in the form of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. He says, "the students were eager to learn American norms of nonverbal behavior--our unwritten rules governing eye contact, touching, comfortable speaking distance, acceptable public seating patterns, etc. Someone who violates our norms for nonverbal behavior makes us profoundly uncomfortable."

"An understanding of these nonverbal norms is vital, since in everyday interaction people never correct a nonverbal violation--e.g., 'Excuse me, you are standing too close to me,' or 'Pardon me, you maintained mutual eye contact for far too long,'" says Archer.

After talking with the students in these classes, he found them eager to share the gestures of their native countries, and Archer began bringing a film crew to the classes. The result is his video, "A WORLD OF GESTURES."

Archer based his video on the words of anthropologist Edward Sapir: "We respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all." If people take the time to realize and understand that the languages of gestures are varied, Archer proposes that a formidable barrier to international understanding may be dissolved.