The Shrug: Forms and Meanings of a Compound Enactment

Abstract : The shrug is a widely shared gesture ensemble with several different components. These include: lifting the shoulders; rotating the forearms outwards with extended fingers to a ``palm up'' position; with mouth firmly closed, pulling the lips downwards (the ``mouth shrug''), which may or may not be combined with raising the eyebrows and tilting the head to one side. It comprises a rich yet consistent network of forms (a single component or a combination of components can index the whole enactment). These components, together or in various combinations, are shown to express incapacity, powerlessness, indetermination, indifference, obviousness which, we suggest, are unified by a common semantic theme of personal disengagement. Since the shrug expresses pragmatic meanings and its formational and semantic core remains stable across different contexts and speakers, the shrug also qualifies as a recurrent gesture. Based on empirical evidence gathered from a videotaped corpus of dyadic interactions between native speakers of British English, this study proposes a qualitative-yet-systematic method to provide a unified account of shrugging.
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Submitted on : Monday, November 20, 2017 - 6:39:52 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, February 28, 2019 - 4:24:07 PM

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Camille Debras. The Shrug: Forms and Meanings of a Compound Enactment. Gesture, John Benjamins Publishing, 2017, 16 (1), pp.1--34. ⟨10.1075/gest.16.1.01deb⟩. ⟨hal-01640701⟩

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