Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement | Vol. 25 No. 1 | DRID WILLIAMS: Signifying Bodies, Signifying Acts: New Ways of Thinking about Human Movement: Chapter 6: Some Metarules

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Signifying Bodies, Signifying Acts: New Ways of Thinking about Human Movement


Chapter 6: Some Metarules

[A] man who understands Chinese is not a man who has a firm grasp of the statistical probabilities for the occurrence of the various words in the Chinese language.

Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relationship to Philosophy (1990: 115)

Preview Questions

  1. Can dances effectively be talked about? Does knowing how to dance necessarily mean that performers understand the structures of dance forms? Do the same questions apply to (a) sign languages and (b) ordinary spoken languages?

  2. What is the difference between a kineme and a kineseme?

  3. What are 'transformational rules,' and why are they useful?

  4. Of what does a primary semasiological unit of action consist?

The majority of people who use language are not linguists who spend many years studying the structures of spoken languages. Similarly, people who perform an idiom of dancing, whether ballet, bharatanatyam, flamenco, Irish step dancing, or some other dance form, are not necessarily anthropologists of human movement who are concerned with the syntactical features of idioms of dancing, transformational rules, and other structures of movement performance. People who speak several languages very well are not usually those who are interested in comparative studies of languages, although there are undoubtedly exceptions among the multilingual populations of the world and there are exceptional people in every field who combine good performances with rigorous conceptual and analytical abilities.

     Knowing how to dance, for example, is to possess the skills and training––all of the necessary concepts and criteria that constitute standards of performance of the idiom, but knowing how to dance is often far removed from the world of action sign analysis. Highly trained professional dancers are not required to know anything about the syntactical features of their chosen idiom in order to perform, any more than highly trained (or untrained) speakers of a conventional language are required to know the grammatical and syntactical structures of their native language in order to speak.1 Likewise, users of a sign language can communicate whether or not they know anything about the likely occurrences of specific action signs in their native sign languages. Isadora Duncan's apocryphal statement comes to mind: "If I could tell you what it meant there would be no point in dancing it."2 An uncounted number of people would probably agree with her.

     There are many who strenuously object to the notion that movement performances can be successfully talked about at all––people whose experiences of moving result in self-imposed intellectual and conceptual boundaries beyond which they do not go. We think Duncan's remark is

correct if she meant to reject the notion that there is a spoken language version of the meaning of a movement performance that somehow echoes in the mind of the mover or observer. She may also have been making the point that her dances involve a symbolic transformation of human experience into a choreographic form with its own structure and semantic content that has to be understood in its own terms. . . . It would be a mistake, however, to interpret Duncan's statement that . . . danced meanings have no cognitive content, or that they cannot be talked about. (Farnell 1999: 150-51)

In semasiology, we talk about meanings, cognitive content, and rules for the creation of meaning with regard to any kind of human movement performance whatsoever, keeping in mind that

Saussure's refusal to build these rules ["rules that outlive all events"] into the linguistic phenomena themselves is an index of his determination to maintain a distance between language and the study of language. (Ardener 1989b: 21)

Saussure tried to ensure his successors' realization that not all of the rules of spoken language are transparent in speech acts. He pointed to another level of rules––rules detected from the study of speech and language––not from individual speech acts themselves. Semasiology maintains a similar distinction: the study of movement indicates that there are intransitive rules—"rules that outlive all events"––that are not built into actions but are apperceived from the study of actions and body languages.

Transformational Rules

All action sign systems anywhere in the world use the same 'alphabet' of action kinemes;3 that is, they all use the differentials of the same number of degrees of freedom of the signifying body, and they all use the differentials of up/down, front/back, right/left, and inside/outside. Apart from the metarules already discussed in Chapter 5, good examples are the five transformational rules for the body members 'legs.'4

     The transformational rules are those which can be used to discover how movement events are created in forms of dancing––or in sign languages, rituals and ceremonies, and so forth. Bear in mind, however, that these rules are applicable to any human system of actions––not only danced forms of action:

Rule 1

In terms of ordinary movements, Rule 1 is a distinctive feature of jumping rope. Many people learn to jump rope using Rule 1, although accomplished performers use other transformational rules as well.

     In the idiom of ballet dancing, soubresauts, entrechats, temps de poisson, échappé, and some relévés, for example, use Rule 1.5 Locomotion in a sack race employs Rule 1 because the presence of the sack prevents going forward any other way.

     Rule 2 is manifested in any move where the person jumps ('steps,' 'glides,' or in some way proceeds) in any direction from both feet to one foot or vice versa. Clearly, if someone moves from the right or left foot to both feet, it is simply a reversal of the same rule. It would be written in reverse from the illustration below:

Rule 2

With reference to ballet dancing, sissone, temps levé, and assemblés are three acts that conform to this rule, but it isn't necessary to have studied ballet dancing to understand the rule. Anyone who has played hopscotch, for instance, has used this rule––although not by the name 'transformational rule' or (usually) with any awareness that he or she is following a rule.

     To begin hopscotch, one jumps from both feet onto one foot. There are sequences internal to the game involving jumps from one foot onto both feet and the reverse. Those who have never played hopscotch can claim familiarity with this rule by becoming aware of what they do when they walk to a counter in a department store: their last step will usually take them from the R or L foot onto both feet. The first step away from the counter takes their weight off both feet onto one foot. Although the rule is written in Laban script as a 'hop' or a 'jump,' one need not 'hop' from both feet to one foot, as the department store example indicates.


In between shop counters, sauntering along a country path, or running for a bus, people follow transformational Rule 3, which is familiar to the majority of people because the human act of walking is an expression of Rule 3.

Rule 3

Semasiologists call Rule 3 the rule of alternating weight stress.

     As the movement texts below indicate, someone who limps also follows Rule 3, but with less weight stress on one leg than on the other. Walking on tiptoe puts equal weight stress on both legs but changes the vertical dimension of the act by elevating the body slightly in space. In contrast, the '[Charlie] Chaplin walk' lowers the body on the first six steps of the action, finishing in an ordinary upright relation to space.

     Moves in the ballet-dancer's body language game using Rule 3 are piqués, petit tours en chaine, and pas de boureés (which can also begin or end on both feet). Marathon (or any kind of) running is based on Rule 3. Olympic hurdlers also use Rule 3.

Walks 1

The 'walks' written above are not stylized 'dance walks,' with the possible exception of the 'Chaplin walk,' which is more stylized than the others; yet, as Chaplin used it, it was not done as a danced move but as an exaggeration of a normal gait. Even if readers cannot read the Laban texts, it is immediately apparent that different modes of walking are radically dissimilar, yet, they are all based on transformation Rule 3 for the simple reason that human beings only have two legs.

     'Walking' is an interesting subject of comparative study, illustrated in the three examples below, from three different idioms6 of dancing. Here, we see stylized 'dance walks,' the detailed analysis of which would require hundreds of pages of clarification because they would require accompanying explanations of the dance forms from which they are taken. In other words, semasiology insists on knowing why the walks are different.

Walks 2

Rules 4 and 5

Rule 4 is the rule of iterated weight stress, that is, weight placed on one leg over and over again:

Rule 4

A ballerina or a premier danseur in a show of technical virtuosity might, for example, hop while turning in one place, or she might travel small distances on one pointe. Where the male dancer might do a series of turns a la seconde on one leg to display his strength, the famous set of thirty two fouettes (turns) in the last act of Swan Lake––performed by Odile to bedazzle Prince Seigfried--consists of a series of turns on one leg alternating between demi-plie and full pointe. A series of relévés can be executed by either performer using only one leg, in which case the dancers conform to Rule 4.

     Rule 4 is infrequently seen in ordinary life, but, if someone teeters on a cliff trying to regain balance, she might do so in terms of Rule 4. The act of "staggering" often includes tiny hops on one foot because the body is out of balance and, apart from an effort to regain command of oneself, the hops indicate loss of control. In contrast, performing while jumping rope on one foot for prolonged periods of time is a mark of virtuosity. Gymnasts who are experts on the balance beam often use the rule of iterated weight stress.

     As written below, Rule 5 merely shows a change of weight from one set of body members to another--in this case, feet to hands.

Rule 5

Use of this rule is visually familiar to many because it is frequently used by skilled gymnasts for demonstrations of unusual prowess. A gymnastic vault, for example, involves running (Rule 2), then shifting the body weight from one or both legs to hands on the horse (Rule 5), followed by the execution of maneuvers in the air, then landing cleanly on both feet. In the vocabulary of ordinary movement, the act of sitting down in a chair is an example of Rule 5, as it involves a transfer of weight from feet to buttocks.

Moving human bodies utilize these rules in combination, of course, and they are not the sort of rules that people think about while they are moving––nor should they. That is not the point. The point is that investigators think about this kind of rule if they are interested in describing, interpreting, analyzing, and explaining movement without recourse to the conceptual frameworks of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, or Newtonian mechanics.

Structural Unity versus Semantic Diversity

But here, we run up against a major obstacle on the road to understanding human actions: that between structural unity and semantic diversity. We are unable to explain why the difficulty exists because it does not present obstacles in other mediums of expression. Everyone knows, for example, that the spoken morpheme /sol/ can mean (a) the bottom of the foot, (b) a theological concept, (c) the Spanish word for 'sun,' (d) a piece of fish, or (e) 'only' (meaning 'exclusive'). The same phones are used for 'sole' (of the foot), the theological concept, 'soul,' a fillet of sole, the costa del sol (sun coast), and concepts like "the sole relative of X." However, action signs that look the same are usually not treated in the same way as words that sound the same. Somehow, people expect the same hand shapes, head nods, and other kinds of gestures––perhaps a certain positioning of the arms––to mean the same things.

     In one way of looking at the problem, the human alphabet of action kinemes is the same: the human body only has 1. a finite amount of perceptible moves available to it; 2. a finite number of bodily members with which to perform the moves; and 3. a limited number of degrees of freedom of each jointing part of the body. Moreover, there are only so many directions available in which to perform actions in human existential spaces.

     Likewise, a written alphabet of a spoken language consists of a fixed number of letters with which sounds, tonalities, inflections, and such are associated. Structurally, a Shakespeare play and an agricultural journal, for instance, use the same alphabet, but, semantically, there are vast differences between them. We do not say that the play and the journal articles are the same because they both utilize the Roman alphabet, just as we do not make spurious comparisons between a Beethoven symphony and rock-and-roll music because they use the same (well-tempered clavier) scale of sounds.

False Correlations

At a kinemic level, human body languages are bound to show similarities for all of the reasons listed above. However, the values of an action sign system are not determined by reducing action signs to kinemes because these are not the kinds of units that comprise everyday interactions or that carry the meanings of movements. The reason for doing kinemic analysis is to discover how a performed event is 'put together,' so to speak. Kinemes of movement are parts of whole body gestures.7 They are often confused, however, with kinesemes of action,8 as in the many absurd correlations between work movements and danced movements (for example, Lomax 1968-69), as are comparisons of an overhead arm gesture (in semasiological terms, a kineme) made by Evelyn Sharp forty years earlier:

On pre-Dynastic painted pottery more examples occur; and it is interesting to compare all these Egyptian instances with models of women with upraised arms to be seen in the British Museum among the little leaden votive offerings that were found in the shrines of Artemis Orthia and of Helen and Menelaus at Sparta, belonging to the Greek archaic period (7th to 4th centuries B.C.).

     In Burmese ceremonial the Nat-Kadaws, or Nat brides, still curve their arms overhead in this position when they dance before the Nats, or spirits of the dead. We need not, however, go so far East for a comparison, since in one of our own country dances called Haste to the Wedding, which was collected by Cecil Sharp in Warwickshire, the dancers curve their arms overhead exactly as the ancient Egyptian lady did in the fourth millenium B.C. And, of course, it is a well-known position for the arms in many of the Celtic reels and jigs. (Sharp 1928: 15)

Sharp's naïvete can be excused on the grounds that she wrote when dance scholarship in England was in its infancy (Buckland 1994: 46). But, forty years later, the Choreometrics Project displays the same naïvete, for which there is no excuse:

[T]here has been no means of description suitable to comparative study and no body of theory to explain how dance and culture are linked in all societies and in all stages of development. The aim of the present investigation[,] therefore, becomes one of recording and noting regularities and contrasts in movement pattern sufficiently frequent and gross to produce units, universally applicable in cross-cultural studies. (Lomax 1968-69: 233)

Indeed, choreometrics produced units of movement that are similar to Sharp's upraised arms throughout the ages. But this is not surprising because of choreometrics's functionalist-behaviorist theoretical framework. Visible moves of bodily parts that can be counted and charted in various ways are, as we have learned, distinctive markers of behaviorist theory, generating statements such as "the deep knee bend, which is the signature of Umeda dance" (Gell 1985: 199). Not unexpectedly, semasiological units of action are more complex.

The Primary Unit of Action in Semasiology

The primary semasiological unit of action must first of all be tied to the agent's native language. For English speakers, the primary semasiological unit of movement would be defined as it is diagrammed in Figure 1. Notice, first, that the unit in Figure 1 is not tied to a particular idiom of movement: It is tied to the most common act performed by any culture member anywhere in the world: walking.

Figure 1
Figure 1. A native English-speaker's primary unit of action.

The elements of the primary unit are 1. a person and 2. more than one space/time location (that is, 'places' in space/time). The unit includes adverbials of place typical of the English language ('here' and 'there'). Furthermore, the unit implies a track through time/space, based on concepts of present, past, and future consistent with verb-tense usage in English and its intrinsic concepts of time:

Figure 1
Figure 2. The primary unit with eight ordinary 'walking forward' steps.

In Figure 2, the structures of English-speakers' concepts of space/time clearly emerge. But what about cultures whose members speak languages that may well not be marked for tense? In English-speaking cultures, the location of time in space is clear:

When we locate time in space, we say the future is "ahead of us," or "in front of us" and the past lies "behind us," whereas the present is "here." In American Sign Language [ASL], signs relating to the future are performed in front of the signer's body; those dealing with the past are located behind, over the shoulder of the signer, and those relating to the present are level with the signer's body. This is frequently referred to as the "time line" by ASL researchers, and time signs or time indicators have relative locations on this time line that agree with their meaning (Baker and Cokely 1980: 176). The direction of movement of each time sign indicates its relation to present time, so, for example, [signs that translate as] FEW DAYS FUTURE goes forward in space, whereas FEW DAYS PAST goes backward, and the greater the distance from the body the greater the distance in time from the present. (Farnell 1995a: 166)

When we look at the dances, rituals, ceremonies, or sign languages of other peoples, we assume that their concepts of space/time agree with our own, largely because our concepts seem so natural to us––and we are not alone in thinking like this. The same misconception occurs to people in other cultures, for their concepts of space/time seem as natural to them as ours do to us. When misunderstandings occur (as they inevitably do), everyone is mystified. After all 'they' are human beings; they have the same number of arms and legs, and they are moving about just as we do. But are they? Perhaps those 'foreigners' are not interested in when something is done, but something else, as Farnell observes:

The "when" of events [in Nakota] can be dealt with instead through separate words or phrases such as "yesterday," "today," "tomorrow," and "soon," all of which are deictic because they locate time in relation to the here and now (the space/time) of the actor. Spoken verbs, but not Plains Sign Talk [PST] verbs, can be marked in one of two ways that in the past have been labeled as past/present and future tenses. . . . Today, linguists recognize this two-part distinction as a concern with aspect rather than tense; what is important is whether the job is completed or in progress, not when it was done. (Farnell 1995a: 165-66; italics added)

A primary unit of action with reference to the Nakota language would have to be amended in important ways. What is important to us in this context is that a "unit of action" in semasiology must be 1. sufficiently general (as in Fig. 2) to allow for discussion of in-built concepts of space/time in the speaker's language and how these may differ (as in Farnell's work) if the investigator is working outside his or her native language; and 2. the primary unit of action must agree with usage in the speaker's native language; otherwise, distortion inevitably results.9

     Researchers who investigate action sign systems in their own or parallel cultures should treat semasiology's primary unit of action as carefully as colleagues who work in other sociolinguistic contexts. An extended example of the kind of work that results from an examination of the primary unit of action was published in a two-part essay titled "Taxonomies of the Body" (Williams 1980a and 1980b), which was based on the distinction between 'ballet French' (used by ballet dancers, whether of French nationality or not) and 'spoken French' (used by nondancers, whether of French nationality or not).10

The distinction is relevant because in ballet French usage, the terms in the lexicon are meant to denote specific actions or movements of the body. In spoken French the same terms are meant to designate or qualify objects or the states of objects, or else refer to force or energy which is some kind of transaction between subject and object. . . .

(i) in ballet French, the linguistic morphemes derive their meaning and force from specific acts and performances of acts, whereas in spoken French, they state observations and perceptions about objects in the outside world, and

(ii) the speaker of French will notice immediately, upon looking at a list of terms denoting action signs in ballet that the past participle is often used, i.e., plié, jeté, reversé, developpé, etc.

The entirely spoken language-oriented person will ask, "[W]hy is the past participle used?" "Does it refer to some subject which is understood and not stated?" . . . "Is this past participle to indicate the completion of an action?" In these questions, there is an implicit opposition which can, perhaps, only be mediated by reflexive forms of verbs in a spoken language [and by] pointing out the difference between actors and observers of actions . . . or, in a more closely linguistic context, the opposition emerges in some radical differences between Saussurian 'signified'' . . . in many cases, . . . the spoken signifier is the same, but the concept, or the mental image is different. (Williams 1980b: 98)

An excellent, more recent example of language use that is puzzling to nondancers is contained in an essay examining a [Martha] Graham technique class, whose author concludes:

The point here is not to examine the whole technical lexicon of terms that Graham dancers use, but to indicate how the use of spoken language metaphors and metonyms serve to stand for the desired movement result in the technique. Every seated exercise in the technique class is named. . . . Here, "the name of an action will stand for its result" (Ullman 1972: 220). . . .

     In conclusion, we may say that Graham's idiom of dancing––or for that matter, any structured system of human meaning––does not convey 'one-sign-for-one-word' meanings, but a danced idiom does convey specific concepts. Graham dances cannot be read like books (unless they are notated in a movement script, in which case they can be read like books)[;] however, they can be understood in ways that are appropriate to the idiom's mode of communication. In order for this to happen, lay people must familiarize themselves with its 'code'––with its rules and meta-rules and the daily practices that constitute the kind of body language that it is.

     Until these are known, the meanings that can be transmitted through a single technique or idiom of movement––or for that matter through any system of body language––[will remain] inaccessible. (Hart-Johnson 1997: 208-9)

Hart-Johnson (herself a member of Graham's company for seven years) makes many valuable points in her examination of a technique class apart from the language-movement connection cited above. Readers will find, for example, an extended description of the "Graham Walk" illustrated above in this chapter:

The Graham dancer is taught almost immediately the use of an imaginary diagonal line that divides the stage/classroom space called Via Triumphalis. . . . Although this imaginary line bisects the stage space, dancers rarely think of it this way because to them, the line lies internal to the body and is manifest through a move called 'spiraling' where the torso turns around its own axis up to 45 degrees. . . . While one cannot say that Graham invented the movement of spiraling, she certainly invented the semantic concept of spiraling and its use in her choreography. . . . In fact, to a dancer or choreographer, much of that which critics and aestheticians refer to as 'style' is a result of spatial rules and relationships. (Hart-Johnson 1997: 203 and 204)

Transformational Rules Again

It may be necessary for investigators to examine how the five transformational rules for the legs operate in the idiom of body language they have studied. They may want to work out likely occurrences of specific action signs in a body language, or they might want to identify specific syntactical features that characterize a particular sign language or dance form (see Myers 1981). These kinds of analysis are only indirectly connected with what the action signs mean.

     In semasiology, knowing transformational rules for legs and/or arms is roughly parallel to knowing something about the scales or harmonic structures of music. How are the various elements of moving bodies arranged in any given example of body language so that they are intelligible as a system? This is not the same kind of thing as discovering the occurrences of upraised arms across cultures and centuries of time. Nor is it the same as "recording and noting regularities and contrasts in movement pattern sufficiently frequent and gross to produce units [that are] universally applicable in cross­cultural studies" (Lomax 1968-69: 233).

     Myers began by asking what rules created events in social dancing—specifically, the American foxtrot. One of the purposes of Myers's paper was to show that danced actions can be 'grammatical' or 'ungrammatical,' for the notion of following a rule is "logically inseparable from the notion of making a mistake" (Winch 1990: 32):

If it is possible to say of someone that he is following a rule that means that one can ask whether he is doing what he does correctly or not. Otherwise there is no foothold in his behaviour in which the notion of a rule can take a grip; there is then no sense in describing his behaviour in that way, since everything he does is as good as anything else he might do, whereas the point of the concept of a rule is that it should enable us to evaluate what is being done. (Winch 1990: 32)

The importance of transformational rules in semasiology is threefold: 1. they permit a level of analysis of human actions that is equivalent to 'phonology' in the study of sounds; 2. they admit the notion of making mistakes ('ungrammaticality') in human actions. Furthermore, "[a] mistake is a contravention of what is established as correct; as such, it must be recognisable as such a contravention" (Winch 1990: 32). Finally, 3. they permit the possibility of evaluation of action sign systems.

     If I "put my foot in it," so to speak, it must be possible for other people to point out to me that I have done so. Human beings do not live in isolation from one another: there are external checks available for dance forms and sign languages as well as for actions in ordinary, everyday life: we do not live alone. We live in a network of relationships. This is why "the creation of meaning is above all embedded in human relationships" (Urciuoli 1995: 189). In semasiology, the creation of meaning rests on the notion of rules. It also rests upon parts–whole relations, discussed in a chapter titled "The Nesting Principle."11


Short Answers to the "Preview Questions"

  1. Can dances effectively be talked about? Does knowing how to dance necessarily mean that performers understand the structures of dance forms? Do the same questions apply to (a) sign languages and (b) ordinary spoken languages? Yes, dances not only can, but should be, talked about. Talking about dances, however, does not mean that the experience of dancing or the experience of an audience member watching a performance is recreated in words; nor does it mean that there is some kind of verbal 'pattern' for a dance pre-existing in an observer's mind. If Isadora Duncan's statement is taken to mean that "her dances involve a symbolic transformation of human experience into a choreographic form with its own structure and semantic content that has to be understood in its own terms" (Farnell 1999: 150), then she is certainly correct.

         Knowing how to dance does not necessarily presuppose the performer's understanding the structures of dance forms. To communicate in a sign language, signers need not know anything about the structures of the sign language as a system. To speak (and be understood) in a conventional spoken language does not presuppose explicit knowledge of grammar, syntax, or any other set of rules pertaining to the language.

  2. What is the difference between a kineme and a kineseme? A kineseme is a whole body gesture or 'stretch' of whole bodily gestures. A kineme is part of a whole body gesture or, sometimes, part of a part of the whole.

  3. What are 'transformational rules,' and why are they useful? The five transformational rules for the legs state that (a) human beings have two legs and (b) there are a limited number of ways that weight transference occurs. The rules state all formal possibilities of weight change possible to the body members 'legs.' They are useful because they permit kinological analyses of movement––a level of analysis equivalent to phonological analysis of conventional [spoken] language in linguistics. They are useful because they exist at an 'alphabetic' level of human action, thus emphasizing the rule-following characteristics of human being. Rule-following characteristics imply the making of mistakes. Because human action sign systems follow (break or otherwise consist of) rules, they can be evaluated, compared, and contrasted with other like systems. The transformational rules for 'arms' are spelled out in Williams (1977).

  4. Of what does a primary semasiological unit of action consist? First, it must be sufficiently general to allow for in-built concepts of space/time to emerge. Second, the primary unit of action must agree with usage in the speaker's native language. Third, elements of the primary unit are 1. a person and 2. more than one space/time location (that is, 'places' in space/time). The unit (as diagrammed in Figs. 1 and 2 above) includes adverbials of place typical of the English language ('here' and 'there'). Furthermore, the diagrammed unit implies a track through time/space, based on concepts of present, past, and future consistent with verb-tense usage in the English language together with its intrinsic concepts of time.


1 Chomsky was right: to use their spoken language, people don't need to know the rules of grammatical or syntactical structure. The same is true regarding body languages.

2 Cited in Bateson (1972: 137) and in Middleton (1997: 124).

3 A kineme is a single part of a whole bodily gesture. A whole body gesture is called a kineseme. In Laban's movement script, kinemes are graphic signs that describe parts of a whole action sign. These are alphabetic in nature. "It is only in the twentieth century that such generalized systems have emerged, and in this they aim to provide the movement equivalent of an International Phonetic Alphabet; such systems are not dance notation systems, any more than the Roman alphabet is a poetry writing system" (Farnell 1996a: 864; italics added).

4 The transformational rules for the body members 'arms' are given in Williams (1977). For the purposes of comparison with the written expression of Rule 1, the stretches of text below are relevant:

Note 4

5 Examples for ballet dancing are used because I know the idiom extremely well. Other idioms of dancing use these metarules, of course, and are equally relevant.

6 An 'idiom' of body language is a major classification in semasiology. Systems of bodily communication which may impede, but do not prevent, mutual comprehension are referred to as 'dialects' or 'ideolects' of an idiom, as, for example, in the idiom of American modern theatrical dancing, several dialects exist in the form of 'techniques' (the folk term used by modern dancers to describe what they learn). Thus, Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Limon, Hawkins, Cunningham, Tharp, and others are all 'techniques.' A substantially different idiom of dancing, say, the south Indian bharatanatyam, is distinguished by different movement patterns altogether. American Sign Language [ASL] is a different idiom of human action from British Sign Language [BSL], and these idioms of sign language are both different from Plains Sign Talk [PST].

7 A kineme of movement can be treated as if it has meaning on its own, for example, the Indian hastas (see Puri 1997: 188-89) or the Anglo-Saxon manual system of counting (Williams 1977). However, neither hastas nor the hand gestures of the counting system appear in real life on their own: there is always a kineseme involved.

8 A kineseme of action is a whole body gesture, one that can be clearly attached to the value system of the performance involved. See Note 3 above.

9 An example of severe distortion with reference to Umeda walking and dancing can be found in Gell (1985).

10 The problem creating the necessity for a primary unit of action in semasiology was convincingly drawn to my attention by Eric Schwimmer, editor of The Yearbook of Symbolic Anthropology (1978), who candidly told me that the lexicon of ballet terms used in an essay of mine for the Yearbook appeared to be "illiterate." He was unfamiliar with ballet French––its dictionaries and such. He asked me to correct the lexicon so that it would agree with an ordinary French­speaker's usage. The two-part essay in JASHM is the result of explaining to him why I could not translate as he requested.

11 [Editor's note:] "The Nesting Principle" is Chapter 7 in the original manuscript.


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