LINGUIST List 3.1012

Wed 23 Dec 1992

Sum: Yes/No Gestures

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  1. Vincent Su, summery of yes/no gestures

Message 1: summery of yes/no gestures

Date: Thu, 24 Dec 92 00:13:52 ESsummery of yes/no gestures
From: Vincent Su <NTNUS144TWNMOE10.bitnet>
Subject: summery of yes/no gestures

 Summery of Yes/No Gestures

Thanks for those who reply my query of yes/no gestures. The
following is my summary:

1. Abyssinians:
 No : jerk their heads to the right shoulder, in a sort of
 midified head shake.

 Yes : throw the head back and raising the eyebrows

2. American (From: Eilidh Swan <>)
 Yes : nod my head up and down
 No : nod my head side to side. "No" can also be indicated by
 moving my hands in opposable motion (both moving in,
 both moving out), palms down. (similar to baseball

3. ASL (American Sign Language) (From: Eilidh Swan
 yes = a closed fist, nodding up and down like nodding your
 head.( also from: Mary Jack
 no = thumb and first two fingers open and extended, last two
 fingers held against the palm, bringing the top two
 fingers down to meet the thumb, similar to the closing of
 a bird's beak. (try it, you should see what I mean.)

4. Brazil (from: spikegilOREGON)
 No : waggle fingers most often in front of the speakers mouth
 (although maybe several inches out in front, not like the
 U.S. "shush" sign).

5. Farsi (Iran) (From:
 No : S/he can demonstrate the `head toss' "no" and the `head
 toss' accompanied by a click that means emphatic no.

6. France (From: HSEZTWNAS886.BITNET)
 Yes : we nod from up to down and
 No : from right to left (gestures repeated many times; 'no'
 may be also expressed by a similar sign made with the

7. Greek
(1) From: (Hartmut Haberland)
 No : close the eyes (optional) and throw the head upwards in
 a slightly slanted direction. Since the head
 automatically goes back down to 'zero' position, this can
 be interpreted as a nod by foreigners (and thus
 misunderstood as 'yes'instead of 'no'.) (An optional
 click of the tongue can be added.)

 Yes: nodd, usually sideways. This can again be misconstrued as
 shaking your head for disapproval.

(2) From: Stavros Macrakis <>)
 No : the word for "no" is /oxi/. The corresponding non-word
 sound is a post-dental click (tsk), and the gesture is a
 _sharp_ lifting of the chin and quick raising of the
 eyebrows. The hand signal is a raising of the fingers of
 the right hand (held together); this can be very subtle
 (just uncurling the fingers) or very big (like raising
 your hand in class).

 Yes: the word for "yes" is /ne/ (spelled nai). The non-word
 sound is /m/ (less common than tsk for no, usually with
 a low then rising tone) and the gesture is a slower twist
 of the head (chin goes to speaker's left and top of head
 goes to right), and sometimes a _slow_ blink of the eyes
 (as though falling asleep). I can't think of a hand
 signal that means YES unambiguously, but the signal for
 WHY NOT?" often accompanies a YES response. In fact, the
 other signs for YES also can mean WHY NOT? depending on
 how they are delivered.

 WHY NOT: can of course also mean YES or THAT WOULD BE NICE. It
 has the YES head motion with the edges of the lips turned
 down or the lips pursed. /m/ with appropriate tone can
 be WHY NOT?. Hand signal can be a curled hand twisted
 outwards. (Hard to describe all these.)

The various signs can occur separately, e.g. raising of the
eyebrows alone for NO, slow blink for YES, etc.

I think most of this is common to the whole Middle East.

8. Indian/ Indians (Delhi) (Mary Jack
 No : similar to American 'yes', i.e. head bobbing forward and
 Yes : a side to side motion of the head, ears moving towards
 their respective shoulders alternately

9. Japanese (Mary Jack<>)
 Yes: move their whole upper body forward (once).
 No : either a blank face or not exist in the lexicon or body

10. Lebanon (From: Ernest McCarus <USERGBXZUMICHUM.BITNET>)
 Yes: 1) lowering the head (from normal position to just
 above chest)
 2) blinking both eyes (for example, when drinking and
 you cannot talk)

 No : 1) raising the head (i.e., tilting it back; the opposite
 of 1 above)
 2) raising the eyebrows
 3) saying "tsk" (implisive dental click) once (several in
 a row means "too bad!")
 4) flipping the right palm up so revealing the palm

Of the "no" gestures, #3 is the most common, but it also often
occurs in conjunction with #1 or #2 or both.

11. Moari "yes" and "Sicilian "no" : raise their chins, tilting the
 haed back (Labarre 1947).

12. Modern Hebrew (Mary Jack<>)
 No : a frown together with a clicking sound somewhat like
 'tsk' in the disapproval 'tsk tsk' used here.

13. Naples, Italy (From: (Catherine
 No : a quick lifting up and back of the head while clicking
 the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Since we in the
 U.S. nod up and down for yes, I was always confused.
 Another sign used for "no" in Naples is a hand gesture
 with thumb and index finger extended, the other three
 fingers touching the palm while rotating the wrist.

14. Nepal (From: spikegilOREGON)
 Yes: a short, sharp sideways jerk of the chin (which results
 in the whole head tipping from side to side once). When
 this gesture is repeated, the side-to-side tilt of the
 head can be very comical. This is usually accompanied by
 a single grunt: "uh" (phonetically glottal stop followed
 by long schwa].

 No : I don't recall a gesture for "no" (although perhaps it is
 a shake of the head just like in the U.S.), but the grunt
 was similar to the U.S. grunt "Uh-Huh" for "yes", except
 it ends with a sharp glottal stop: "uh-hu'" (i.e., a two
 syllable grunt, the first a glottal stop followed by a
 short schwa, the second a glottal fricative, short schwa,
 and sharp glottal stop).
15. Philippines (from David Gil <ELLGILDNUSVM>)
 YES: raise both eyebrows.

16. Turkey (from David Gil <ELLGILDNUSVM>)
 NO : raise both eyebrows.

17. Venezuela (from: spikegilOREGON)
 No : hold the hand in a fist (curled fingers towards
 interlocutor) with the index finger extended and pointing
 upward, then waggling the finger from side to side (with
 the forearm/wrist as the fulcrum of the waggle).
 The waggled finger is at head height but often off to the
 side of the speakers's face.

18. Hypothesis & bibliography
 (1) From: David Gil <ELLGILDNUSVM> of National University of
 With regard to head nods/shakes, I've given the matter some
 thought, and it seems to me that one can define the gestures
 in terms of their axis of symmetry. For example, in English,
 YES is a shake around a horizontal ear-to-ear axis, whereas NO
 is a shake around the vertical axis. In Albanian, YES is a
 shake around the vertical axis, and hence identical to English

 The Indian "head wobble", meaning (roughly) YES, had me
 puzzled for many years, until I figured out that it's a shake
 around a horizontal front-to-back axis; the third logical
 possibility. However, K.P.Mohanan (personal communication)
 informs me that there are differences between north and south
 Indian gestures, so there would seem to be lots of scope for
 further work on the matter.

 (2) From: Brian D Joseph <>
 Let me draw to your attention, in case you don't already know
 it, the book by Desmond Morris entitled Gestures. It is very
 informative and interesting, and covers yes/no in Europe and
 the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Thanks again for all you help.
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

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