UAH has the first interactive and audiovisual gesture dictionary

The work of a decade has resulted in a good and useful work, Spanish audiovisual gesture dictionary. Speak in Spanish without words, of which Ana María Cestero is author along with Mar Forment, Mª José Gelabert y Emma Martinell.

It is the first dictionary of such characteristics, carried out after empirical studies, and it is also the only digital interactive book, freely accessible for everyone, with which the publications service of Universidad de Alcalá has, although it is an innovative catalog that will increase.

-First of all, we wanted to transmit you the congratulations for the publication of the Spanish audiovisual gesture dictionary, for what profiles is it indicated?

Thank you very much. It has been quite a costly job in time and effort, but we are very happy with the end result, it was worth it! It is an audiovisual dictionary of Common and Frequent Spanish gestures. We believe that it will be very useful, above all, for Spanish learners as a second or foreign language, and, of course, for teachers of Spanish as a second language.

However, its use will be, we hope, productive in other areas, such as translation and interpretation, business linguistic or communicative engineering, intercultural mediation, clinical linguistics or forensic linguistics, among others.

-In language learning, the meanings of onomatopoeias and nonverbal signs that change by country are rarely taught, how can this situation be improved?

Indeed, although its importance is recognised in official documents, such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe), curricular plans that include non-verbal communication in an integrated way are very rare, and the manuals that serve it and the materials that allow them to work with paralinguistic, kinesic, proxemic or chronomic signs in the language classroom are also very small.

There is little mention of non-verbal communication in mother tongue programs in secondary education, in high school or even in primary education, despite its importance in human communication, on the one hand, and that today's classrooms are multicultural and multilingual, on the other hand.

- Do you think they should be included in dictionaries and study grammars?

Communication-related subjects should be worked on, certainly, whether mother tongue or foreign language, at different educational levels. In dictionaries, it´s more difficult, because, as can be seen from the one we have just published, the entries are different, in configuration, from the language words or expressions, because they are signs of a different nature.

Those that do appear in dictionaries are more and more often called quasi-lexical elements, which are paralinguistic, sound, high performance, such as onomotopeias or non-lexical interjections, and sounds of the type of hm, eeeeh, puff, ts, etc. This impossibility of being collected in the usual dictionaries is the one that makes the creation of Dictionaries, inventories or Repertories of non-verbal signs of different kinds, of which there are very few yet…

- Now that so many video calls are made by confinement, whether for work or for being in contact with our family and friends, what advice would you give to use correct non-verbal language in them?

In video calls, non-verbal communication is used in a similar way as in face-to-face interaction, with conditions arising from a situation where, for example, we cannot use a hand because it holds the mobile or we are seated…When we only hear each other, a part of the communication decreases because we do not see the gestures and, in that case, we must use more signs of other systems to compensate.

This confinement and the need to control ‘contact’, which, for us, is natural in communicative interaction, will require the use of non-verbal signs, facial expressions and paralinguistic elements related to the expression of emotions above all, that ‘approach’ us, such as, for example, the permanent smile, warm, direct look, head straightening, body/trunk forward positioning, open and abundant manual gestures, tone, medium timbre and volume, warm, energetic and cheerful voices…

Ana M Cestero
Ana Mª Cestero


The citizens of the Mediterranean countries use many gestures to communicate, which identify us, the Spaniards?

We are cultures with a functional performance index of non-verbal signs, what characterizes Spaniards, as well as other Mediterranean, Arab and African cultures, is precisely the usual use of an inventory of extraordinary nonverbal elements, gestures and quasi-lexical elements above all.

We belong to the called ‘contact cultures’, in which natural and spontaneous social communication is usually regulated by ‘touches’ or contacts and occurs at a very short distance, especially conversation, less than 1 meter; In addition, we commonly perform a lot of gestures of social use that involve contact with the other people, such as the kisses themselves to greet, or the hug, which give 'access' to communicative interaction, functioning as rituals.

- How do measures to prevent virus expansion such as keeping the safety distance or the use of masks make it difficult to communicate?

Based on the fact that our natural distance in conversational interaction is significantly less than a meter and that facial gesticulation is extremely productive., these measures require the use of gestures and parallinguistic signs that can compensate for the absence of empathizating elements and structuring the interaction. They represent a drastic change in our natural behavior, and a great effort on the part of the population, because the usual distances and the realization of non-verbal signs that involve contact are automated, arise spontaneously, since we acquire them from small,  in the socialization stage; now we have to use a 'monitor', that is, we have to consciously check that we need to keep a greater distance from our speaker and that we must not touch it. It's time to use other codes we're not trained for.

As for the use of masks, as these do not show the mouth and, therefore, we cannot be sure that  there is, for example, smile,  empathizing gesture and great approach (although it is possible to know by intuition by eye movements that characterize it; when you smile, the movement of mouth with eyes is combined), it is also necessary to use signs that compensate or allow to perceive clearly smile and other non-verbal signs of positive contributions.

- Once we have overcome the pandemic, do you think we will continue to keep the new social distance?

The distances for performing interactive activities, which are cultural, are acquired, as mentioned, at an early age, and are automated; therefore, in my opinion, since ‘the new distance’ is circumstantial, necessary in a period of time not too long, after the situation we live we will return to the ‘usual’ use, which for us is normal. Perhaps, it could have an impact on children who are in the last phase of the acquisition, aged between 10 and 12, but I doubt it enough, or at least I hope so.

Publicado en: Inglés