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3. Transpositions and Gesture Spaces

3.1 Transposition: Movement Between Spaces

The dichotomized continuum between relatively creative and relatively presupposing, imported from words to pointing gestures, is severely complicated in practice by the fact that there can be "indirect" or mediated links from indexed referent to intended referent. A narrator may, for example, point at a copresent interlocutor to refer either directly to that person as a protagonist, or indirectly through links of kinship or historical association to some other person or entity. More globally, pointing gestures may indicate referents which are entirely absent, at least in the immediate physical surround.

For a start skilled narrators can exploit the availability of different inter-transposable spaces, switching rapidly between them. Another of the gestures with which I began (Figure 1, repeated below as Figure 30) illustrates the speed with which speakers engineer (and interlocutors evidently absorb) such transpositions. P describes a roadside cantina where the muleteers used to drop in for a drink. Using props presented by the house patio in which we sit, he evokes this imaginary space in a remarkable sequence.

First he uses the microgeography of his own house compound, where we sit, to establish a link between the physically copresent path and gate in local space-- the entrance to the sitio (Figure 27)-- and a narrated gate at the roadside bar (Figure 28).

Figure 27 Video 15

{15} Tzan, tzan, tzan
1 2 4...........
1 p; . . oy te . ali ti' be ya'el chk li'e
There was a gate there, just like here

j; . . .
1. Gaze out to right, focus on path?
2. Right hand up from knee, points with index finger to N. {there}
3. (JBH) also gazes to same place, looks back to P when he moves finger [W]. {uh}
4. Right hand moves back W, returns E, fingers curling inwards. {like this}

Figure 28: "A gate with a door."

5 6
2 te jun . pwerta lek
There was a . proper door.
3 j; aa
Ah. 5. Right hand moves higher to above head level, (head turns back and down to middle). {one/a}
6. Fingers down, hand raised, bounces down twice with palm down as gaze returns to me. {door}

4 p; ta ti' be
at the entrance.
6': Right hand starts to drop, rises slightly in loose hand, down to knee. {gate}

5 j; a oy tey . oy tey nakal krixchano
Oh, so there were people living there?

6 p; (och stijik)
They went in and knocked.
7. Right hand turns palm inwards, backhand outwards to W with extended arm: down and up with this hand, curling inwards to loose fist. {entered}

In this transposed space his gestures point at an imaginary fence and gate: the tey, 'there' to which he points with the gesture shown as [8] in line 7, and the ti' be, 'gate' which he represents with gesture [10] in line 8.

7 p; oy tey nakal krixchano un
There were indeed people living there.
8. Cupped hand palm down, arm still extended, taps once up and down out [N]. {living there}
9. Right hand points down quickly, then (b) curls back in ->SW to position in front of face {people}

Figure 29: "A gate by the path."

8 ta ti' be
beside the path.
10. Hand flat, vertical down and up motion (gaze to hand). {gate}

Swiftly, however, he brings his gesture back to the current "here and now," in order to point, at [11], line 9, directly at the kitchen house beside which we are seated. "That house [whose gate I can point to in transposed narrative space] was the same size as this house [which I can point to here]." (The house in question, a temporary kitchen, is relatively small as local buildings go.)

Figure 30: "Same size as this house.&quo

11a 11b
9 . yech smuk'ul chk i na chk li'e
(It) was the same size as this house here.
11a. Right hand crosses to SW, and gaze also.
11b. and points to kitchen house, before returning to rest. {size}

Within a single complex utterance he thus moves from immediate local space to a narrated hypothetical space, laminated over the former and deriving its structure therefrom, and then swiftly back again. A seemingly simple gesture points at once to a local building and to a narrated roadside bar now long disappeared.

3.2 Lamination of Spaces

The seemingly unproblematic notion of direction itself turns out to be extraordinarily complex. Even location by cardinal directions is not "absolute" but relational, depending on a reference point from which a direction can be projected. Furthermore, the phenomenon of transposition makes clear that this reference point, far from being firmly anchored in the unmarked deictic center, the default here-and-now of the speech moment, can shift radically.

A particularly dramatic case surrounds the "Palenque" gesture we have already considered, part of a sequence in which Maryan describes the topography of the area around this ancient city. The town of Palenque is located on a flat coastal plane, stretching off to the north from the central Chiapas mountain range. The famous Palenque ruins sit in the foothills of this range, in an area covered by dense jungle.

As we have seen, Maryan describes how one gets to the town of Palenque, and then, gesturally, he locates himself at that spot. His gesture shown in Figure 31 establishes, in our shared mnemonic interactional space, the spot that is going to count as Palenque for our discourse. That is where one starts the trajectory he is about to describe.

{16} M0413
RH starts out from rest
| 1---2----RH moves rapidly back, and
| gaze back over R shoulder

Figure 32 Video 16

Suddenly he turns around rapidly to his right and makes an expansive gesture over his right shoulder (i.e., to the South or slightly to the Southeast from where he is sitting-- see Figure 32).

256 m; ali mi jtatik i Palenke
If one gets to Palenque
M0414 --------3............
gaze back to me
257 xi ckom xi to vi

(the ruins) are located this way.

He then says "(the mountains, i.e., the ruins) are located this way." After turning back to the front, he again turns to the south-west, in a further gesture.

gaze starts back over R shoulder
| 1 (points twice)
then rapidly back to rest
gaze front

260 k'u ca'al yocob
like the (Nabenchauk) sinkhole.

Figure 33

At line 260 (Figure 33) MA turns around and points straight south, at the same time focusing his gaze in the general direction of a stand of rocks across the Nabenchauk lake, a place called yochob or 'sinkhole' where the lake drains into the mountain. He now makes plain the transpositions that have taken place. (1) Transpose yourself to the spot we have located, the town of Palenque. (2) From there look that way [South]. That's where the mountains are. (3) Bring yourself back to Nabenchauk. It's the same direction as the sinkhole from here. To follow the entire performance requires that the interlocutor superimpose a map of the local terrain onto the narrated spot, and then calibrate positions in the latter by recalculating positions in the former. (See Map 5.)

(Double Size)

Map 5: Transpose Nabenchauk onto Palenque

In this spectacular feat of mental gymnastics, both location and direction are transposed, and it is the presumed constancy of compass directions that calibrates the lamination of two different spaces, one local and one narrated.

3.3 Mental Maps and Local Knowledge

We come now to a final complication, illustrated by the last of the sample "pointing gestures" with which I began. Although local space is in a clear sense immediately present and accessible to interlocutors, even local space may contain entities which are only available after the appropriate conceptual calculations have been performed. These calculations both presuppose and creatively invoke a set of cultural conventions and prohibitions-- in the examples I am about to give, the GY restrictions on naming or otherwise invoking the dead, which can only be appropriately done with various sorts of indirection.

We return to northeastern Australia. In Haviland (1993), I discuss how JB refers to deceased protagonists with important roles in the shipwreck story. For example, when he needs to mention the "boss for all boats," a recently deceased Aboriginal man on whom the Missionary had conferred special responsibility for the Mission sailboats, JB cannot simply name him. In the 1980 version, he offers a morphologically simple but conceptually complex pointing gesture, sighting along his index finger extended toward the south as he says "This old man Bowen."

169 old man yii Bowen he-
This old man Bowen, he...
R: "G2" crosses face S, and eyes sight along finger straight S, retract to lap and square up.

Figure 34 Video 17

Since old man Bowen is now long dead, how can we interpret this apparently straightforward gesture? I understand it to point the spot at modern Hopevale where the house of this same old man Bowen once stood. (The former location of the now vanished house is shown on Map 1). JB is thus not exactly pointing in local space at all, but only in a socio-historically reconstructable image of it.

Old man Bowen was, in fact, the rather fierce father-in-law of JB's interlocutor in the 1982 telling, RH. According to the traditional kinship system, which prescribed an avoidance relationship (see Haviland 1979a) between sons-in-law and fathers-in-law, RH had to treat the old man with deference and respect. The second time around, JB adjusts his linguistic indirection to the interactional environment and refers to his protagonist as shown in {18}.

{18} Your old fellow
171 ngali b-bada gaari gada-y nhaathi ngaathiina
1duNOM down not come-PAST see+PAST father-in-law
We didn't go down there with--
Gaze moves L to engage RH.

172 =nhanu-mu-gal nyulu nguba ngaliin gurra-ya
2sGEN-CAT-ADESS 3sNOM perhaps 1duACC say-PRECAUT
--with your father-in-law, see, since he was liable to scold us.

173 r; aa

174 j; warra thirranh-gurr
old old man-PLU+ABS
The old fellow.
R: loose "G" point W (at R?), and head and gaze drop.

Figure 35 Video 18

At line 174 JB apparently points at RH himself, indexing with gesture the fact that the protagonist he can't mention directly was RH's "old man." (See Figure 35.)

Formally similar devices may be employed to allow appropriately indirect reference when etiquette requires it. In {19} JB mentions another deceased man, one "Woibo" by name. He points (at {19} gesture 2) over his left shoulder (Figure 36). Once again, since Woibo is nowhere to be seen, how can his pointing gesture be interpreted? Once again, I interpret JB to be indicating the Hopevale store (refer again to Map 1) where the surviving son of the man referred to currently works and can ordinarily be seen. Woibo is deceased, and his eldest son stands as his modern-day social replacement.

{19}. Boat2: Woibo #1
1:....... 2:............!............
158 nyulu thawuuy-nda Woibo-onh yarrba nhaathi
3sNOM friend-ERG Woibo-ERG this way see-PAST
Friend Woibo looked that way.
1: R: up in "baby O," points W, then N and up.
2: R: "G" curls back to SE point, with gaze and head nod, ends in E over L shoulder, 2nd nod as hand retracts to lap.

Figure 36: Woibo [pointing to Woibo's son's workplace]

That this is the correct interpretation of JB's gesture gains confirmation later in the story when JB again mentions the late Woibo. This time as he gestures in what seems to be the same direction (see Figure 37) he mentions the son explicitly: "Woibo, this Willie Woibo's [i.e., the son's] father."

Figure 37 Video 20

JB thus uses mediated links deriving jointly from cultural convention and from the particularities of individual biography and social history, to "point" at his intended referents. (33) He may do so by pointing at a physically vanished but socio-historically retrievable (virtual) place; by pointing to a copresent interlocutor whose relationship with the referent renders the referential indirection both interpretable and socially appropriate; or by combining both strategies, referring to his protagonist by pointing to a place linked in turn to the referent's most salient relative, his modern incarnation.

In these examples, we see clearly the richness of gesture not simply to contribute to the referential work of talk, but to accomplish the social action characteristic of discourse, typically including the interactive playing out of "who we are," "how we are related," and perhaps "how we feel (or ought to feel) about it."

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