My second leg of fieldwork in the Lower Casamance was carried out from October 2016 to early February 2017, during which I focused on investigating the semantic system of placement and removal events in Joola Kujireray. As I am researching the manual gestures used by speakers of Kujireray, I’ve developed more or less of an eye for certain gestures. In particular, there is one gesture that has captured my attention since the beginning of this project which I like to call a “snap and point” gesture. Combining both audio and visual elements, speakers extend their hand and snap, and upon completion of the snap, the index finger remains straight, creating the deictic pointing gesture. The video below provides an example of this gesture used by one of the speakers of Kujireray. In French, she is discussing the location of a building that used to be present, and when referring to its location, she uses this “snap and point” gesture, and both my colleague Mia Weidl and I turn our heads to look.
Why is this interesting for linguists and gesture researchers? Well, for one, gesture researchers have found a diverse range of deictic gestures across cultures that vary in both form and meaning. For example, the “thumbs-up” gesture may be the same form in several cultures or regions, but carries contrastive meanings. An open palm gesture in some cultures may only refer to objects in the plural form, where in others it may be used in certain contexts of formality. Like most of linguistic work, the majority of research concentrates on European languages and the same holds true for gesture studies. Hopefully, as the field of gesture studies is increasingly exploring new avenues of research, it will include a description of these understudied gesture forms in rural West Africa.
As for the “snap and point” gesture, I am curious to understand its parameters for which it is used. Is the speaker-gesturer trying to emphasize precision of the focal point? Is it used to get the addressee’s attention so s/he will look to where the speaker is pointing? Does visibility play a part in whether or not the speaker includes the snap? How exclusive is this “snap and point” gesture to the Lower Casamance – does this occur in other West African countries and beyond, and if so, does the form’s meaning vary? These are just a few questions I have pondered for this gesture, and although my current research does not focus on this form, it certainly makes for some interesting future research for the field of linguistics and gesture studies.