Examples of Illustrative Gestures

Illustrators are bodily movements which are directly tied to speech, serving to illustrate what is being said verbally to enhance receiver comprehension.

Illustrators create a visual image and support the spoken message. For example, when you give someone directions, you use illustrators to facilitate your task. When you want to stress the shortness of a member of a basketball team compared to the average height of team members, you use your hands to emphasize the difference.

Illustrators tend to be subconscious movements occurring more regularly than emblematic kinesic movementsOpens in new window. According to Ekman and Friesen, illustrators, “are quite similar to emblemsOpens in new window in terms of both awareness and intentionality. The person using an illustrator may be slightly less aware of what he is doing, and his use of illustrators may be somewhat less intentional”.

It is observed that illustrators are probably always informative and they are sometimes communicative. Ekman and Friesen add that “they are probably at least as intentional as the words spoken when the speaker is excited and not exercising forethought and care about his choice of words”.

Types of Illustrators

Ekman and his colleagues distinguished six types of illustrators, namely:

  1. Batons, which primarily serve to time out, accent or emphasize a particular word or phrase.
  2. Ideographs, which sketch a path or direction of thought.
  3. Deictic movements, which point to a present object.
  4. Special movements which depict a spatial relationship.
  5. Kinetographs, which depict a bodily action.
  6. Pictographs, which draw a picture of their referent.

The usage and the amount of illustrators used differ from culture to culture. In general, Latinos use illustrators more than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, who make more use of illustrators than many Asian cultures. In some Asian cultures, extensive use of illustrators is often interpreted as a lack of intelligence. In Latin cultures, the absence of illustrators indicates a lack of interest (Elizabeth Kuhnke, Body Language For Dummies).