photo Eni Koukoula

1996

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 Let us confirm

the importance of building

a unique common language

in the field of culture:

gestures and facial expressions.

 
     
 

When a Greek wants to indicate “Yes” or “No”, a single motion of the head seems to be adequate. However, in another European country, that same movement of the head could very well mean nothing at all, convey quite a different message, or be considered impolite.

 
     
   
     
 

Although we call them “a code of communication” and think of them as a common language, they have never actually been recorded in a systematic way, even though the peoples of Europe use them to express themselves every day. European unification presupposes the development of a common language respectful of national and regional diversity.  In the field of culture, can we really claim to have got to grips with this “unique common language”: namely, the gestures and facial expressions of the peoples of Europe? Before attempting to answer this, let us first try to communicate. We’ll see how, in the absence of a code to indicate and interpret the various uses of signs, any attempt to communicate using nothing but gestures and facial expressions may very well end up in a comedy of errors and misunderstandings.

 
     
  Scetch Rosy Papageorgiou  
     
 

So let’s brush up on each other’s culture and communicate! In line with the project’s European character, three co-organisers will undertake to bring the project to fruition. As both the project’s concept and the initiative for preparing its content are Greek, the entire project will be activated and piloted by the Lead Organiser based in Athens, Greece. We will form a working group, with representatives from every EU member states. The team will be responsible for recording European gestures and facial expressions, performing and interpreting them, elaborating on the particulars, and proceeding with the final selection. The participants will therefore create a database code-named “The gestures and facial expressions of European nationals”, which will then form a source of inspiration for artistic and cultural creativity. We will encourage three young European photographers from the three EU member states which most frequently employ gestures and facial expressions (Greece, Italy, Spain) to express their artistic creativity. It will be their task to render the gestures and facial expressions selected during Phase I in photographic form. We will print an attractive book entitled “A CORPUS of European gestures and facial expressions; communication beyond linguistic barriers”, which will then be piloted across Europe. Using the perspective project as a platform for the exchange of ideas on the future of European culture, artistic creativity, and communication, we will then organise an event which will feature in European cultural festivals across the continent. This event will present the results of cross-border co-operation between European artists and intellectuals (primary sources and visualisations). Multimedia will play an essential role both in the event itself and in its publicity. Young Europeans will be encouraged to participate by means of visits to schools, universities, and cultural organisations, where the pilot-project will be distributed and debate encouraged on the motion: “KNOWLEDGE IS THE FIRST STEP TO COMMUNICATION”. Similar efforts will be made to publicize the project as widely as possible by securing easy INTERNET access for Europeans to the project’s results, to the CORPUS, and to the events. The working group will also provide publicity for the perspective project through the Press and Media, where emphasis will be placed on EU support through the “Kaleidoscope” program. GESTURES FACIAL EXPRESSIONS A MEANS OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN EUROPEANS.

 
     
 
 
     
 

Gestures and facial expressions are a means of communication for Europeans. Although called “a code of communication” and thought of as a common language, they have never really been recorded in a systematic way. In fact, it is difficult to establish which section this topic would be classified under in Europe’s bookstores. Public and private libraries, too, offer little beyond random facts, while databases contain almost nothing on the subject. In fact, although gestures and facial expressions are part of everyday expression among the peoples of Europe, the very words ÷åéñïíïìßá [Greek], gesture [English], gesticolazione [Italian], linguagem gestual [Portuguese], geste [French], gestikulieren [German] appear to be terra incognita.

 
     
   
     
 

European unification presupposes the development of a common language respectful of national and regional diversity. At a technical level, a “grammar of networks” has been devised to serve and satisfy this communicational need.

 
     
  Scetch Rosy Papageorgiou  
     
 

However, can we really say we have got to grips with this “unique common language” - meaning the gestures and facial expressions of the peoples of Europe - in the field of culture? Before attempting to answer this, let us first try to communicate. It will not take us long to realize that, in the absence of a code of signs to indicate and interpret their various uses, any attempt to communicate using nothing but gestures and facial expressions may easily end up in a comedy of errors and misunderstandings. For example, while Greeks indicate “No” with a backward motion of the head, in another European countries that same movement could mean nothing at all, convey a different message entirely, or be considered impolite.

 
     
 

 
     
 

Irrespective of how we perceive them - as complementary to speech, a form of expression linked to a social environment, or behaviour indicating social and psychological links - gestures and facial expressions are certainly used by the peoples of Europe as a means of communication. Yet, how can we communicate using a language we do not know?

 
     
 

 
     
 

Let us press ahead and form a working group to deal with “The gestures and facial expressions of the nationals of Europe; a means of communication beyond lingual barriers”, and let this group—in which as many EU member states as possible are represented—proceed with the drawing up of a corpus of the gestures and facial expressions used by the peoples of Europe.

 
     
   
     
 

Ideally, the project will go beyond this point to produce a number of products derived from the new corpus.

 
     
   
     
 

The development of a common language : Any attempt on the part of Europeans to communicate with each other using nothing but gestures and facial expressions may very well end in a comedy of errors, since there is no extra-linguistic code to indicate and interpret their various uses. Our aim, then, is to get acquainted with some of the gestures and facial expressions most frequently used by the peoples of Europe.

 
     
 

 
     
 

When a Greek wants to indicate “Yes” or “No”, a single motion of the head seems to be adequate. However, in another European country, that same movement of the head could very well mean nothing at all, convey quite a different message, or be considered impolite.

 
     
   
     
 

Among European nationals, Greeks and Italians rank first for their frequent use of gestures. Dutch people gesticulate quite a bit, while the British seem more reserved, as they find gestures and facial expressions rather unbecoming. It seems as though the French prefer to punctuate their speech using exclamations rather than gestures.

 
     
   
     
 

Greeks use the sign of an open palm as an insult, the Dutch use the same gesture for “See you, later”, while Italians make a similar gesture to indicate “Wait”. So, when an Italian driver stalls at the corner of Panepistimiou and Voukourestiou street in Athens, and a Greek policeman urgently signals for him to move on, the Italian will show him his open palms to indicate “Wait” and will end up at the nearest police station accused of disrespect toward the authorities! The misunderstanding will only be resolved when the Greek policeman and Italian driver are both acquainted with the different interpretations of a single gesture.

 
     
 
Scetch Rosy Papageorgiou

 
     
 

As diverse as European manners are, one thing remains certain: gestures and facial expressions are part of a communication code used by the peoples of Europe. Is this code complementary to speech, an expression determined by social environment, or behaviour indicating social and psychological links? The answers may lie in the literature dealing with body language. Our goals here are limited to activating the bipartite relationship between knowledge and interpretation by means of a communication game for Europeans, who will hopefully end up familiarizing themselves with the various gestures and facial expressions used by their counterparts around Europe, and hence come to understand one another better. We definitely do not wish to load the average European down with information relating to psychology and human perception. Nor do we wish to leave them puzzling over the tentative conclusions of scientific research into body language, which includes gestures and facial expressions.

 
     
 

 
     
 

We want to show Europeans that the concept of a “common language” does not necessarily entail standardization of expression. On the contrary, in the field of culture, this idea aims at the preservation of particular cultural identities.

 
     
   
 

 

 
     
 

We are interested in cases where knowledge of another “language” automatically creates a “common language”. And it is not cohesion that we seek: after all, elements discovered in one particular “language” have no force in a language of another kind, since their value is limited to the context of the particular system they are based on.\

 
     
   
     
 

Moreover, we will be presenting gestures and facial expressions from a contemporary viewpoint, and as they are used at a given time. No attempt will be made to place them in a historical, sociological, or psychological perspective.

 
     
   
     
 

Gestures and facial expressions: How can we communicate using a language we do not know?

 
     
 

 
     
 

Let us set up a pan-European working group to open a dialogue on the subject “The gestures and facial expressions of the peoples of Europe; a means of communication beyond lingual barriers”. Our aim: to confirm the importance of building a unique common language in the field of culture.

 
     
   
     
 

At the first stage of the process, every member should present their native gestures and facial expressions to the group. These gestures could then be discussed and interpreted at the second stage, with a view to discerning both differences between gestures and differences in the meaning of the same gestures as they are used from one country to another. The group could finally compile a corpus of gestures and facial expressions as these are used across the EU.

 
     
 

 
     
 

It is to be hoped that the project will not stop here. At a third stage, our European partners should be informed of the importance of gestures as a means of communication between nations, and of the difficulties arising from a lack of relevant knowledge. It should not be difficult for the working group to pass on this message through the media. European businessmen, for example, invited to a forum in Rome to review production specifications on European goods, would certainly acquire an interest in the subject if told that talks could break down if Italians saw their Dutch, German, French and Spanish colleagues pinching the lobes of their ears during discussions. Among Italians, this gesture means “You are homosexual”.

 
     
   
     
 

At a fourth stage, the working group should devise a game to be circulated first around the EU, and eventually worldwide. The game could provide schools, organizations, foundations, cultural centres, and multinational businesses with essential information relating to the function and usage of gestures in everyday life. Is there anybody to whom such information is not relevant?

 
     
 
photo Kostas Tahiatis

 
     
 

A computer equipped with a DVD containing short films clips will stand in for a well-versed European who can remember the gestures used in all 15 member states, their common or different meanings, their countries of origin, and any other relevant information the player may need. The game assumes the player needs to interpret a partner’s gestures and facial expressions in order to establish better communication between the two.

 
     
   
     
 

It would be useful for the players to learn how to interpret their own gestures as well, not as they know them, but as a foreigner might interpret them if they lacked the requisite knowledge. That way, our friend may get an answer as to why the Germans who’d asked him out to dinner got rid of him willy-nilly: as a Dutchman, he had done his best to show interest in the topics discussed by his hosts, and had placed his forefinger on his temple every now and then. The people had got sick of him, because he’d been signalling “you’re crazy” throughout dinner!

 
     
   
     
 

During a fifth and final stage, the working group could strive to disseminate the game as widely as possible. An attractive book entitled “Gestures and facial expressions of the nationals of Europe; a means of communication beyond lingual barriers” should be printed and translated into fifteen languages. Some people, after all, extract more pleasure from the written word!

 
     
   
     
 

GRAMMAR OF IMAGINATION:        The dissemination of the project’s results will certainly stimulate a cultural and artistic dialogue around European cultural harmonization. Since we have been able to invent a “Grammar of Networks” for a technical, economic, and political unification that combines unity with diversity, we should certainly prove capable of contriving a Grammar of Imagination for cultural harmonization; a grammar consisting of autonomous cultural and artistic proposals aimed at finding various ways of combining unity and diversity.

 
     
   
     
 

A basic principle of the Grammar of Imagination will be the fact that cultures do not spread, enrich themselves, and develop in a straight line, meaning that cultures grow depending on the number of points at which they intersect. This project will set out to prove the truth of this principle through cross-border cultural and artistic co-operations on a European level. It will help Europeans comprehend the difficulties and prospects inherent in the further development and expansion of the European Union, and will propagate the following message: in the field of culture, too, we can develop common languages while protecting our national and regional diversity. In other words, the long term potential of this project lies in both the Medium and the Message. There are no barriers between cultures.

 
     
   
     
 

Let us confirm the importance of building a unique common language in the field of culture.