LINGUIST List 4.411

Sat 29 May 1993

Sum: Shadow Plays

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  1. Gwyn Williams, Shadow plays: Summary of responses

Message 1: Shadow plays: Summary of responses

Date: Wed, 26 May 1993 13:12:37 Shadow plays: Summary of responses
From: Gwyn Williams <>
Subject: Shadow plays: Summary of responses

 On Fri, 14 May 1993 I posted the following questions concerning Thai
shadow puppets:

 a. Is a study of puppet movements a "proper study" of kinesics?
 b. Is a study of puppet movements a "proper study" of linguistics? More
specifically, would you accept this topic as a thesis proposal in linguisti

 Many thanks to those who responded.

REPLY 1: From Paul Black

>A study of shadow plays cwould be a proper study in semiotics. Whether thi
s is
>acceptable as a thesis in e.g. linguistics would surely depend on the
>particular department. I suspect it would be/would have been acceptable at
>alma mater, Indiana University, where Sebeok has been (was?) heavily invol
>in semiotics, and I would expect it could be acceptable at Sydney Uni and

>Macquarie Uni (also in Sydney), where systemic functional grammarians (e.g
>Ruqaya Hasan) consider semiotics to be highly relevant to their studies.

REPLY 2: Arjarn Peansiri Vongvipanond

>[...] I saw your query on "kinesics" of shadow plays. I do not know of
>any theoretical framework for such a study; however, I think that the
>movements of these shadow play characters must conform or imitate some of
>the dance movements, folk as well as classical. This means one would need
>to have an understanding somehow of the meaning of dance movements, which
>of course must reflect humans' natural movements.
>09How about studying the semantic or kinesic meaning of classical
>dance movement first. I am sure there is traditional literature as to how
>each movement "means". A theory can certainly be abstracted from these
>traditional dance interpretation. I for one would be interested to see a
>semantic or kinesic study of Thai classical dance movement. At least the
>width of leg and arm movements does signal the gender of the dancers. Male
>and female dialects, perhaps ?

REPLY 3: From: "Y.L. TANG"

>After seeing your questions, I immediately asked: WHO has the
>power to designate the definitions of 'proper' and 'linguistics'?
>I think that depends much on the ideologies prevailing in
>different academic depts.
>I think 'kinesics' is quite an appropriate term for the analysis
>of puppet gestures/movements. But if the analysis covers
>significations pertinent to Thai culture, I think I'll call it a
>SEMIOTIC study.
>Of course, 'communication studies' can be a cover term for semiotics,
>linguistics and kinesics.
>As to 'linguistics'...I think we should adhere to the use/structure of nat
>languages *articulated from human beings directly*. Although puppet moveme
>as signifiers are ultimately invented by man, they are not articulated
>directly from man.
>So I think 'linguistics' is not very apt an area to cover the puppet proje

REPLY 4: From: Nancy Frishberg

>My opinion based on sponsoring lots of students in independent work
>over the years, especially at Hampshire College, Amherst Massachusetts
>where the progress toward a degree is measured almost completely in
>student-proposed projects:
>Shadow plays are not kinesics, but certainly are semiotics.
>Shadow plays could be the stuff of a linguistics thesis. Related
>literature in the Anthropology of Human Movement (there was a journal
>by this title for a while; still?) edited by Drid (sic) Williams who
>was last at Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana), Anthro
>Department or Semiotics Center. Other resources in semiotics
>journals, stuff on ritual, etc. The linguistics part would need to
>focus on what the "grammar" of the messages is, how much variation is
>possible in form, what sorts of messages are conveyed and how: through
>movement and/or through accompanying words.


 From: Alan Harris

>Your study would warrant going to the very considerable
>communication literature in NON-VERBAL communication. Start with
>Mark Knapp, scan Communication Abstracts; it is probably more of
>a communication study than a lingusitic one unless you are
>interested in the type and form of the language that the players
>use whilst manipulating the puppets. Why not also look at the
>"Blackeye" (Karagoz) of Turkey and Greece as excellent examples
>as well? cheers/good hunting.

REPLY 6: From: glingphlgarnet

>The study of communication and meaning via Shadow Plays would fall under
>the domain of semiotics, since no spoken or written language is involved.
>At least that's how I look at it.

REPLY 7: From: Karen Katz

>[..] I suspect that the formal analysis of puppetry might be more commonly
>found in anthropology or communication theory department. But I
>think this is because such formal analyses tend to be based on ideas
>germane to those disciplines. I think it would be really
>interesting to study puppetry from the point of view of linguistics.
>[...] I have found linguistics to have a tendency to over-compartmentalize

>human communication--that is, to ignore the relationship between such thin
>as words and gesture, and structure and function. In college, I found mys
>wishing that the field could be more integrated. But recently, I
>discovered a book which addresses the relationship between language
>structure (i.e., what is conventionally studied in linguistics) and
>gesture. [...]


 Replies 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Key

 ------------------------------------------- + yes
 Semiotics + (+) + + + + (+) qualified yes, ma
 ------------------------------------------- x no
 Kinesics (+) (+) x
 Linguistics (+) (+) x (+) (+) (+) (+)

 From the summary table above it is clear that there is general consensus
that the study of puppet movements would come under the scope of semiotics
(communication studies), rather than kenesics. There seems tentative agreement
that it could be the study of linguistics, with the qualification that there
be correlation with the language of the puppeteer.

 Gwyn Williams
 Thammasat University, Bangkok <>
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