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Definition: body language from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Nonverbal communication by largely unconscious signals of posture and movement. Sighing and laughing are also body language; though they rely principally on sound, they are often accompanied by gestures and are nonverbal.

Summary Article: Body Language
From Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies


Nonverbal visual elements of communication, which are referred to as kinesics or body motion communication (Birdwhistell 1970) and are frequently grouped under the term ‘body language’, are considered an inseparable part of the verbal communication process. These elements of NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION include gestures and other kinesic elements, such as facial expression, eye contact and posture, as well as proxemics, that is, the interlocutors’ spatial constellation in a certain situation. In their entirety, they can limit, accompany and complement, but also replace or even contradict, the verbal components of interaction, either wholly or in part (Kendon 2004). Used effectively, body language can support and optimize the communication of what is said, and therefore make a significant contribution towards the constitution of the meaning of the spoken word. As body language partly eludes a speaker's conscious control, inadvertent kinesic elements can also have a negative and disruptive impact on communication (Argyle 1988).

In addition to its relevance for the constitution of meaning in spoken languages, body language belongs to the inventory for constituting meaning in sign languages. Sign languages are natural languages that are perceived visually and produced by body movements. Signing relies not only on manual but also on non-manual articulators such as facial expression, head movements and, in many European sign languages, mouthing of spoken words. Individual signs are defined by their major formational parameters: handshape, orientation, movement and place of articulation. Sign languages also have prosodic components, which are encoded by both manual and non-manual articulators (Pfau et al. 2012). Body language is thus a vital component of the communication process, not only for sign languages in general but also with specific reference to SIGNED LANGUAGE INTERPRETING.

Even though the significance of body language is undisputed for communication in general, its role is rarely discussed in the literature on interpreting. For interpreters, visually perceived nonverbal elements are important in two ways. On the one hand, interpreters must understand these elements in the source text, because they make an essential contribution towards its meaning; on the other hand, interpreters must be able to express such elements in the target language in a way that is appropriate to the situation. Moreover, interpreters also receive the nonverbal reactions of listeners and may need to react to these, if necessary, while interpreting. For these reasons, interpreters insist on having VISUAL ACCESS to both the speaker and the audience (AIIC 2012; Viaggio 1997; Weale 1997).

The complex flow of verbal and nonverbal information in interpreting, as outlined by Poyatos (1987/2002: 237, 1997: 251), largely depends on the mode of interpreting (i.e. simultaneous or consecutive). Verbal and nonverbal signals may come from different interlocutors, or may be superimposed on one another. Particularly in SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETING, the nonverbal and verbal channels of communication are intertwined for the target-language audience (see Ahrens 2004): target-language listeners perceive the body language of the source-language speaker in combination with the verbal signals received from the interpreter. In this context, there is a risk of irritation and misunderstandings on the part of the audience due to the cultural specificity of nonverbal elements and the time delay between source-language and target-language texts (Weale 1997). The simultaneous interpreter working in the booth is restricted to the acoustic channel; his or her use of kinesic elements cannot be intended for target-language listeners, but may serve to support meaning processing and to accentuate target-language production (see Zagar Galvão 2009).

In the case of CONSECUTIVE INTERPRETING, it is primarily the kinesic elements – gestures, facial movements, eye contact and posture – that have an impact on the audience, as both the speaker and the interpreter are present (and visible to the listeners). Therefore, the interpreter's body language may have a major influence on the COMMUNICATIVE EFFECT of the interpretation. It is unclear, however, to what extent the interpreter's gestures and facial expressions should emulate the speaker's. Herbert's (1952) recommendation that interpreters should avoid reproducing any emphatic gesturing which might have accompanied the source speech implies that they should, on the whole, opt for less visible body language; another possible argument in favour of such a position is that the audience has already perceived the source-language speaker's body language, so that the interpreter's serves only as a complement.

© 2015 by Routledge

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