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Writing tips from Marco Polo February 21st, 2021 by

If Covid has idled you, this might be the time to take a tip from Marco Polo, and write a book or an article.

In 1271, a 17-year-old Marco set out for China and Mongolia with his father, Niccolò and his uncle, Maffeo Polo. At the court of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, Niccolò presented Marco as the great Khan’s servant. The Khan liked Marco right away, and sent him to various cities in China, perhaps as a tax collector, or as an official in the royal salt monopoly, or maybe just to report back.

Even then, Marco had a gift for storytelling, and he reported back to the Khan in detail of the people and things he had seen. Marco kept notes to remind him of what to tell the Khan.

Twenty-four years after leaving Venice, the three Polos arrived back home again, but they were soon dragged into a pointless war with Genoa. As a noble, Marco was obliged to outfit a galley. But when he and his sailors ventured into the Adriatic Sea they were captured by the Genoese, who took him to prison. For centuries, Genoa had been competing with Venice for the trade in salt and other goods in the Mediterranean, so the city states were arch rivals.

The Genoese recognized Marco as a noble (in no small part because he would tell anyone who would listen that he was a Venetian nobleman). So, Marco was placed into a reasonable comfortable captivity, for at least a year, and perhaps as long as three, waiting for his family to ransom him.

Marco beguiled his fellow jail mates with tales of exotic lands, and soon came to the attention of another prisoner of war, Rustichello da Pisa, a notary and a romance writer.

Rustichello realized the power of Marco’s story and the two became collaborators. Marco sent for, and received the notes he had written to report back to the Khan, and he dictated his story to Rustichello, who wrote it up (in French, oddly enough). In the words of historian Laurence Bergreen, in prison, Marco Polo found the freedom to write his story.

Hand-written copies of the book slowly appeared all over Europe, in English, Spanish, Italian and other languages. Marco himself, who had returned from Asia with a fortune in pearls and jewels sewed into the hems of his clothing, also hired scribes to copy his book. Each one was a bit different; Marco may have kept adding to his book each time he had it copied. At a time before the printing press, when a book could cost as much as a house, and a library might have only 100 volumes, a copy of Marco Polo’s Travels was a valuable gift. Marco would give copies to important people he wanted to impress.

Marco died in 1324, but his book lived on, and it was one of the first books (after the bible) to come off the printing press, almost two centuries after it had been written. The Travels appeared in print first in German, in 1477 and Christopher Columbus owned a Latin version, in which he wrote detailed notes in the margins.

China had thrown off Mongol rule not long after Kublai Khan died in 1294, and then closed itself off from the west for centuries. But Marco’s book inspired voyagers like Columbus and Magellan to seek a sea route to China.

Marco Polo was not the only European to visit Asia. His own father and uncle went not once, but twice, yet they appear as minor characters in Marco’s story.

Traveling and writing have both changed a lot since Marco stepped onto the Silk Road to China, but some principles remain the same: keep good notes and be observant; report back in a narrative style and write it up. It may be helpful to have a collaborator. Take advantage of any time or space you get, to write.

If Marco had merely travelled to China and not met Rustichello, the Polos would have been largely forgotten. Marco Polo is famous not because of his trip, but because of his book about his trip, in spite of all the technical limitations of publishing in the 13th and 14th century.

Further reading

Bergreen, Laurence 2009 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. London: Quercus. 415 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

A history worth its salt

Illustrations

Caravana de Marco Polo, from the Atlas Catal√°n of Carlos V, 1375.

Map, The Route of Marco Polo’s Journey, by SY.

Against or with nature February 14th, 2021 by

Ask any tourist what comes to mind when they think of the Netherlands and there is a good chance they will say ‚Äúwindmills‚ÄĚ. Ask any agricultural professional what the Netherlands is known for and they may mention ‚Äúwater management‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúdairy‚ÄĚ (you know, the big round cheeses). Few people may realize how these are all intricately interwoven, and how their interaction over time has created an environmental disaster.

In his thought-provoking book Against the Grain, James Scott draws on earlier work of anthropologists and archaeologists to provide some insights into how early humans changed their environment to source food from closer to home. Through controlled fires, certain plants and wildlife species were favoured, while cooking enabled our ancestors to extract more nutrients from plants and animals than was previously possible. The very act of domesticating plants, animals and fire, in a sense also domesticated us as a species. While modern cows and many of our crops can no longer survive without us, we can no longer survive without them. Besides fire, people also relied heavily on water. In fact, everywhere in the world, ancient peoples first settled near rivers or at the fringes of wetlands which, along with the nearby forests, provided a rich variety of food.

Agricultural technology was fairly stable for centuries, but slowly began to change in medieval times, which brings us back to the windmill. While fixed windmills were found in Flanders by the 11th century, they were mainly used to grind grain. In the 1600s a Dutchman, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest, added a crankshaft, an Arab invention, to convert the rotating movement of a windmill into an up-and-down one. Windmills could now also be used to saw wood, and to pump water. Soon the landscape was dotted with thousands of windmills. The now so typical Dutch landscape of peat grasslands and ditches is a manmade ecosystem shaped through drainage by windmills. The new pastures with lowered groundwater tables were especially apt for dairy farming, serving what became the world-renown Dutch dairy sector.

The drainage of the wetlands sounds like a great agronomic achievement, but a Dutch veterinarian Katrien van ‚Äėt Hooft, director of Dutch Farm Experience, recently showed me the other side of the coin. The continuous drainage of surface water and lowered groundwater table, combined with modern dairy farming and use of tractors, has caused a drop in the peatland. The land has been sinking several centimeters per year for a long time, faster than the rise in sea level. Projections are that under current management the peat soils will further sink 2 meters before 2050, and become a major threat to the country. Although the Dutch government is taking urgent measures to restore the groundwater table, the challenges do not stop there.

As drained peat releases CO2, the Dutch government has set up a scheme to reward farmers who help raise the groundwater table. But wet pastures require a very different management, as farmers are now beginning to learn. When collecting hay on wet pasture, overloaded machines risk getting stuck. Maize cannot be grown, because this water-loving crop lowers the groundwater level in the peat land. The typical Holstein-Friesian cow, commonly used in the Netherlands for its high milk production, requires maize and concentrated feed. In the peat lands it is therefore now being crossed with ‚Äėold fashioned‚Äô local cattle breeds, such as Blister Head (Blaarkop) and MRY (Maas-Rijn-Ijssel breed). These so-called dual purpose cows yield milk and meat, perform well on plant-rich pastures and have the benefit that they can produce milk with minimal use of concentrated feed.

However, as the peat pastures need to become wetter again, these cows are increasingly suffering from some ‚Äėold diseases‚Äô, including intestinal worms and the liver fluke, which spends part of its life cycle in mud snails. Farmers are using anthelmintics (anti-worm chemicals) to control this, but the anthelmintics to control liver fluke are forbidden in adult cows, for milk safety reasons. Moreover, just as with antibiotics, the internal parasites are quickly building up resistance against anthelminitics, and the dairy sector is forced to rethink its position of always trying to control nature.

Now here comes a twist in the story. As Katrien explained to me, these common animal diseases used to be managed by appropriate grassland management, use of resilient cattle breeds and strategic use of (herbal) medicines.  But most of this traditional knowledge has been lost over the past decades. With a group of passionate veterinary doctors and dairy farmers, Katrien has established a network with colleagues in the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Uganda and India to promote natural livestock farming. Inspired by ethnoveterinary doctors from India, Dutch veterinary doctors and dairy farmers have gained an interest in looking at herbs, both for animal medicine and for enriching grassland pastures to boost the animals’ immune system. Together they have developed the so-called NLF 5-layer approach to reduce the use of antibiotics, anthelmintics and other chemicals in dairy farming.

Resistance to chemical drugs used in livestock, whether against bacteria, fungi, ticks or intestinal worms, will have a dramatic effect on people. For example, the bacteria that gain resistance to antibiotics in animals become ‚Äėsuperbugs‚Äô, that are also resistant to antibiotics in human patients. The abuse of antibiotics in livestock can ruin these life-saving drugs for people.

James Scott describes in his book that when we started intensifying our food production thousands of years ago, we lost an encyclopaedia of knowledge based on living with and from nature. In the same vein, traditional knowledge of agriculture has been eroding since the mid twentieth century, with intensification brought on by machinery and chemicals, like the Dutch dairy farmers who lost most of their folk knowledge about plants and the ‚Äėold‚Äô cattle diseases.

While the challenges are rising, it is fortunate that the 21st century humans are able to learn from each other’s experiences at a scale and speed unseen in history. Dutch dairy farmers are not the only ones to have lost traditional knowledge. It has happened across the globe, and more efforts are needed to help make such worthwhile initiatives of knowledge-sharing go viral (as a matter of speaking).

Credit

Katrien van ‚Äėt Hooft kindly reviewed earlier drafts of this blog and provided photographs.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Veterinarians and traditional animal health care

Watching videos to become a dairy expert

Trying it yourself

Stuck in the middle

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Why people drink cow’s milk

Big chicken, little chicken

Further information

James C. Scott. 2017. Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 312.

The Foundation for Natural Livestock Farming. https://www.naturallivestockfarming.com/

Dutch Farm Experience ‚Äď Lessons learnt in Dutch Dairy Farming https://www.dutchfarmexperience.com/

Groen Kennisnet wiki: Herbs and herbal medicines for livestock (in Dutch) https://wiki.groenkennisnet.nl/display/KGM/Kruiden+voor+landbouwhuisdieren

https://www.natuurlijkeveehouderij.nl/kennisbank/

Watch Access Agriculture videos on herbal medicine in animal healthcare

Keeping sheep healthy

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal medicine against mastitis

Natural ways to manage bloat in livestock

Managing cattle ticks

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Of fertilizers and immigration February 7th, 2021 by

Chemical or mineral fertilizers have long been touted by agro-industry and by governments as a necessity to feed the growing world population. Sixty years after the start of the Green Revolution, the damage caused to farmland, surface water and groundwater, biodiversity and farmers’ livelihoods has forced policy-makers in India and in the European Union to curb the over-use of fertilizers and encourage more environmentally-friendly ways of farming. But fertilizers have also affected immigration in various ways.

Immigration can be triggered by political suppression or economic hardship, often aggravated by climate change. But rural folks across the globe are also under increased pressure due to the rising costs of agricultural inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and animal feed. While recently some European farmers have decided to migrate to other countries, the high rate of suicides among farmers in both Europe and India is shocking. Despite these alarming events, the promotion of fertilizers in Africa goes on. As with the dumping of obsolete pesticides banned in Europe because of their high toxicity, the agro-industry has also turned to Africa to further increase their profits from selling fertilizers.

One of the problems is that for far too long researchers have been focusing on yields instead of on farmers’ profits and building healthy soils that can sustain farming in the long run. At a recent virtual conference organized by the European Commission, researchers from the Swiss Research Institute on Organic Agriculture (FiBL) presented results from a 12-year study looking at various cropping systems in tropical countries. Soil organic carbon was on average 20-50% higher in organic farms compared to conventional farms. While the yields of organic systems can match or outperform conventional systems, proper use of N-fixing legumes, organic manure and good agricultural practices is key to improve productivity.

Fertilizer promotion by governments or development projects have mostly benefited local elites and better-off farmers thereby adding to social inequality. Modern cereal varieties have been bred for responsiveness to chemical fertilizer. At the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, rice, maize and wheat farmers who opted for the full package (modern high-yielding crop varieties, fertilizer and pesticides) initially were able to boost their yield. But while the increased production led to lower market prices, they also became increasingly indebted to moneylenders and banks.

International researchers have now turned their attention to roots and tubers. The poor person’s crop, cassava, could yield up to 50 tons per hectare, about four to five times the current average yield, if chemical fertilizers were used. Again, it will be mainly the larger farmers who stand to benefit as they capture the market. Smallholders stand to lose and, along with their children, turn to seek other livelihood options.

Cities in Africa are bursting and offer few economic opportunities, so it is of little wonder that people seek greener horizons. Regional migration is a common strategy to survive. According to the latest report of the International Organization for Migration (IOM 2020 report, page 318), land degradation, land tenure insecurity and lack of rainfall are major drivers of environment-induced migration for people from West and North Africa. The European narrative framing migration as primarily ‚Äúeconomic‚ÄĚ often overlooks key factors, such as climate and environmental drivers of migration.

But environmental damage does not only happen where chemical or mineral fertilizers are used. It also happens where fertilizers are produced, but this remains often hidden.

The site of secondary mining of Phosphate rock in Nauru, 2007. Photo: Lorrie Graham

Nauru, a Pacific island, was a good place to live when it gained independence from Australia in 1968. However, in just three decades of surface-mining, the island was stripped of its soil, to get at the rock phosphate (for fertilizer). Now there is no place to grow crops. Ironically, Nauru’s entire population has become dependent on imported fast food from Australia. More than 70 percent of Nauruans are obese, and the country struggles to reinstall backyard gardening and encourage young people to eat plants. The mining of fertilizer and bad governance turned the smallest and once richest republic in the world into the most environmentally ravaged nation on earth: Nauru had little choice but to accept Australia’s offer to host ousted asylum seekers, often immigrants from Indonesia, in return for money.

While some people and donors are still convinced that a Green Revolution industrial model of agriculture is the way forward for Africa, one should pause and look at the consequences of mining and using chemical (mineral) fertilizer. If we want to keep people on their land, we have to support healthy food systems that nurture the soil and keep it healthy and productive.

Further reading

Bhullar, G.S., Bautze, D., Adamtey, N., Armengot, L., Cicek, H., Goldmann, E., Riar, A., R√ľegg, J., Schneider, M. and Huber, B. (2021) What is the contribution of organic agriculture to sustainable development? A synthesis of twelve years (2007-2019) of the ‚Äúlong-term farming systems comparisons in the tropics (SysCom)‚ÄĚ. Frick, Switzerland: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).

LoFaso, Julia (2014) Destroyed by Fertilizer, A Tiny Island Tries to Replant. Modern Farmer. https://modernfarmer.com/2014/03/tiny-island-destroyed-fertilizer-tries-replant/

International Organization for Migration (2020). Migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean. International Organization for Migration, Geneva.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Stuck in the middle

Reviving soils

A revolution for our soil

Gardening against all odds

Encouraging microorganisms that improve the soil

Farming with trees

Out of space

Offbeat urban fertilizer

Related Access Agriculture videos

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Good microbes for plants and soil

Human urine as fertilizer

Using sack mounds to grow vegetables

A convincing gesture January 31st, 2021 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

In last week’s blog (We think with our hands), I wrote that people use gestures intentionally to convey meaning, while many other hand movements are unconscious. Moving our hands helps us to grasp the right words. But human speech is also much more than words and hand gestures.

Tone and volume of voice (screaming, whispering), facial expression, head movements (like nodding) and body language (slouching vs standing ramrod straight) all help to reinforce meaning and to convey emotion. We also make humming and clicking noises, which are sounds, but not speech. This non-verbal communication is convincing because it’s natural. We can spot the difference; a phony smile is made with the lips only, while you use your whole face for a sincere one.

At Agro-Insight, when we make videos with farmers, we never tell them what to say. We ask them questions, and film their answers, which we transcribe and translate into other languages. For example, if the farmer is speaking Arabic, we will use her voice in the Arabic version of the video, but we will dub over her voice for the English, French and other versions.

In these learning videos, the farmers’ non-verbal communication is typical of unscripted, sincere speech. For example, in a video filmed in India, farmer Maran explained that he had a problem with the neighbors’ turtles coming into his fish pond to eat their feed. As he said that, he moved his hands as if to suggest movement from one place to another. After hiring professional turtle catchers to remove the unwanted guests, everything was fine, an idea he reinforced by patting both hands downwards in a comforting gesture. The film crew didn’t tell him to do that. Unless you watch the Tamil version of the video, you will hear a voice artist dubbing Mr. Maran’s words, but you can still tell that his gestures go with his narrative.

In the final cut of the video, we usually leave in some of farmers‚Äô original voice, before starting the voiceover. This lets the audience hear some of the emotion. For instance, in our video on feeding dairy goats, Teresia Muthumbi explains that when she gives her goats banana stems with sweetpotato vines and a little grass, ‚ÄúThey give a lot of milk.‚ÄĚ She is speaking from experience: you can hear the sound of authority in her voice, even if you don‚Äôt understand Swahili.

In one video from Togo, farmer Filo Kodo tells how the maize harvest had increased a lot after rotating the corn with velvet bean (mucuna). One neighbor even asked her what magic she had used. ‚ÄúI told him it was with mucuna magic,‚ÄĚ she said, and you can see the smile in her eyes as well as on her lips.

I‚Äôve written before how smallholders in Malawi called people on the farmer learning videos their ‚Äúfriends‚ÄĚ, even though they had never met (Friends you can trust). Farmers in Uganda referred to their ‚Äúbrothers and sisters‚ÄĚ in West Africa, who they had only seen on the videos.

When people speak from the heart, their tone, gestures, expressions and body language convey conviction, even if the words themselves are translated into another language, and spoken by another person. Non-verbal communication adds a richness, a sincerity that is hard to fake. This is one reason why realistic farmer-to-farmer training videos are a far richer experience than fully animated videos.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, and Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs ‚Äď Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Watch the videos mentioned in this blog

Stocking fingerlings in a nursery pond

Dairy goat feeding

Reviving soils with mucuna

GESTOS QUE CONVENCEN

Por Jeff Bentley, 31 de enero del 2021

En el blog de la semana pasada (Pensamos con las manos), escribí que las personas usan los gestos a propósito para transmitir un significado, mientras que muchos otros movimientos de las manos son inconscientes. Mover las manos nos ayuda a captar las palabras que buscamos. Pero la comunicación humana es también mucho más que palabras y gestos con las manos.

El tono y el volumen de la voz (gritos, susurros), la expresión facial, los movimientos de la cabeza (como para asentir) y el lenguaje corporal (ponerse cómodo o mantenerse erguido) ayudan a reforzar el significado y a transmitir emociones. También emitimos zumbidos y chasquidos, que son sonidos, pero no son palabras. Esta comunicación no verbal es convincente porque es natural. Podemos notar la diferencia; una sonrisa falsa se hace sólo con los labios, mientras una sincera es con toda la cara.

En Agro-Insight, cuando hacemos videos con agricultores, nunca les decimos lo que tienen que decir. Les hacemos preguntas y filmamos sus respuestas, que transcribimos y traducimos a otros idiomas. Por ejemplo, si la agricultora habla en árabe, usamos su voz de ella en la versión árabe del video, pero la doblamos para las versiones en inglés, francés y otras.

En estos videos de aprendizaje, la comunicaci√≥n no verbal de los agricultores es la t√≠pica del habla sincera y sin guion. Por ejemplo, en un video grabado en la India, el agricultor Maran explic√≥ que ten√≠a un problema con las tortugas de los vecinos que entraban en su estanque de peces para comer su alimento. Mientras lo dec√≠a, mov√≠a las manos como si quisiera sugerir un movimiento de un lugar a otro. Despu√©s de contratar a cazadores profesionales para eliminaran a las tortugas, todo estaba bien, idea que reforz√≥ dando palmaditas con ambas manos hacia abajo en un gesto de satisfacci√≥n. El equipo de filmaci√≥n no le dijo que hiciera eso. A menos que se vea la versi√≥n en tamil del video, se oir√° a un locutor doblando las palabras del Sr. Maran, pero aun as√≠ se nota que sus gestos realmente acompa√Īan su narraci√≥n.

En la edici√≥n final del v√≠deo, solemos dejar algo de la voz original de la gente, antes de empezar el doblaje. Esto permite al p√ļblico escuchar parte de la emoci√≥n. Por ejemplo, en nuestro video sobre la alimentaci√≥n de las cabras lecheras, Teresia Muthumbi explica que cuando da a sus cabras tallos de pl√°tano con hojas de camote y un poco de pasto, “Dan mucha leche”. Habla por experiencia: se puede o√≠r el sonido de la autoridad en su voz, aunque no se entienda el suajili.

En un video de Togo, la agricultora Filo Kodo cuenta c√≥mo la cosecha de ma√≠z ha aumentado mucho despu√©s de rotar el ma√≠z con el frijol terciopelo (mucuna). Un vecino incluso le pregunt√≥ qu√© magia hab√≠a usado. “Le dije que era con la magia de la mucuna”, dijo, y se puede ver la sonrisa en sus ojos adem√°s de en sus labios.

Ya he escrito antes c√≥mo los campesinos de Malawi llamaban “amigos” a las personas que aparec√≠an en los v√≠deos de aprendizaje, aunque no se conocieran (Amigos confiables). Los agricultores de Uganda se refer√≠an a sus “hermanos y hermanas” de √Āfrica Occidental, a los que s√≥lo hab√≠an visto en los videos.

Cuando la gente habla con el coraz√≥n, su tono, sus gestos, sus expresiones y su lenguaje corporal transmiten convicci√≥n, aunque las palabras mismas est√©n traducidas a otro idioma y sean pronunciadas por otra persona. La comunicaci√≥n no verbal a√Īade una riqueza, una sinceridad que es dif√≠cil de fingir. Esta es una de las razones por las que los videos realistas de agricultor-a-agricultor son una experiencia mucho m√°s rica que los videos de pura animaci√≥n.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, y Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs ‚Äď Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Vea los videos mencionados en este blog

Estanque vivero para criar alevines

Alimentando a cabras lecheras

Revivir el suelo con la mucuna

We think with our hands January 24th, 2021 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

I live on a busy street. But the traffic is slow enough that I can observe the drivers. Many have their eyes on the road. Some are looking at their phones, but occasionally I see a motorcycle rider speaking to his passenger, and making hand gestures. Taking one’s hands off the handlebars to gesture is dangerous, and pointless if your listener is behind you and can’t see you wave and point.

So why would people in their right minds risk their lives to make hand gestures to someone out of view?

Anthropologists have found that people all the world over move their hands when they speak, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes to convey meaning. We know how to point at something to let the shopkeeper know we want to buy it, or to hold out our palm while saying ‚Äúand the corn was this high.‚ÄĚ Hand signs can be used to say anything. Deaf sign languages are complete communication systems, as expressive as speech. Native American sign language was once the lingua franca across the plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

But unconscious hand gesturing is different; we aren’t always aware that we are doing it. We gesture while speaking on the phone. Even the blind, who have never seen hand signs, instinctively gesture while speaking to other blind people.

In his book on translation, David Bellos tells a story about people giving speeches at international organizations like the United Nations. The speakers tend to read prepared remarks, so they know what to say. They stand and speak, hands resting quietly on the podium. To see the hand movements, you have to go down to the booth for the simultaneous translators, who gesture wildly as they struggle to find the right words in another language.

A recent review of the evolution of languages describes how our primate relatives communicate with their hands and with their voices. Over the past six million years, human gestures and vocalization probably developed together, even if spoken language eventually gained the upper hand, so to speak.

Speech has probably always been accompanied by hand gestures. Sometimes these are complete signs, like pantomiming a scribbling pencil to let the waiter know you’d like the check, but we often move our hands unintentionally, which may add clarity to meaning, like a wagging finger. And sometimes, we just move our hands as we make an effort to express ourselves. We may be unaware of the hand movements, but they help us to find the right words. We all gesture like the motorcyclists on my street, who haven’t lost their minds; they are just gathering their thoughts.

Further reading

Bellos, David 2011 Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything. New York: Faber and Faber. 373 pp.

Corballis, Michael C. 2012. How language evolved from manual gestures. Gesture 12(2): 200‚Äď226.

Fröhlich, Marlen, Christine Sievers, Simon W. Townsend, Thibaud Gruber, and Carel P. van Schaik 2019. Multimodal communication and language origins: Integrating gestures and vocalizations Biological Reviews. doi: 10.1111/brv.12535

Iverson, Jana M. and Susan Goldin-Meadow 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature 396(6708): 228-228.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

At the end of the words

The wine rose

PENSAMOS CON LAS MANOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 24 de enero del 2021

Vivo en una calle con bastante tr√°fico. Pero caminan lento no m√°s, y puedo ver a los conductores. Muchos s√≠ se fijan en la calle. Algunos miran sus celulares, pero de vez en cuando veo a gente manejando moto, hablando con su pasajero y haciendo gestos con las manos. Quitar las manos de la manilla para hacer gestos es peligroso, y no tiene sentido si el pasajero est√° detr√°s de ti y ni puede ver lo que se√Īalas.

Entonces ¬Ņpor qu√© la gente en su sano juicio arriesgar√≠a su vida para hacer gestos con la mano a alguien que ni le pueda ver?

Los antrop√≥logos han comprobado que los pueblos de todo el mundo mueven las manos cuando hablan, a veces de forma inconsciente y otras para transmitir un significado. Indicamos algo con el dedo para hacerle saber al tiendero que queremos comprarlo, o extendemos la palma de la mano mientras decimos “y el ma√≠z era as√≠ de alto”. Las se√Īas manuales pueden usarse para decir cualquier cosa. Las lenguas de signos de los sordos son sistemas de comunicaci√≥n completos, tan expresivos como el habla. El lenguaje de signos de los ind√≠genas norteamericanos serv√≠a para comunicaci√≥n entre las tribus en las llanuras desde el sur de Canad√° hasta el norte de M√©xico.

Pero el gesto inconsciente de las manos es diferente; no siempre somos conscientes de que lo hacemos. Hacemos gestos mientras hablamos por teléfono. Incluso los ciegos, que nunca han visto los signos de las manos, gesticulan instintivamente cuando hablan con otros ciegos.

En su libro sobre la traducción, David Bellos cuenta una historia sobre las personas que dan discursos en organizaciones internacionales como las Naciones Unidas. Los oradores suelen leer los discursos preparados para saber qué decir. Se ponen de pie y hablan, con las manos apoyadas tranquilamente en el podio. Para ver los movimientos de las manos, hay que ir a la cabina de los traductores simultáneos, que gesticulan a todo dar mientras se esfuerzan por encontrar las palabras adecuadas en otro idioma.

Una reciente rese√Īa de la evoluci√≥n del idioma describe c√≥mo nuestros parientes primates se comunican con las manos y con la voz. A lo largo de los √ļltimos seis millones de a√Īos, los gestos y la vocalizaci√≥n del ser humano probablemente se desarrollaron juntos, aunque el lenguaje hablado gan√≥ la carrera.

Probablemente, el habla siempre ha ido acompa√Īada de gestos con las manos. A veces se trata de signos completos, como la pantomima de un l√°piz que garabateamos para hacer saber al mesero que queremos la cuenta, pero a menudo movemos las manos sin querer, lo que puede a√Īadir claridad al significado, como al mover el dedo para decir ‚Äúya no‚ÄĚ. Y a veces, simplemente movemos las manos en un esfuerzo por expresarnos. Puede que no seamos conscientes de los movimientos de las manos, pero nos ayudan a encontrar las palabras adecuadas. Todos gesticulamos como los motociclistas de mi calle, que no han perdido la mente; s√≥lo est√°n juntando sus pensamientos.

Lectura adicional

Bellos, David 2011 Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything. Nueva York: Faber y Faber. 373 pp.

Corballis, Michael C. 2012. How language evolved from manual gestures. Gesture 12(2): 200‚Äď226.

Fröhlich, Marlen, Christine Sievers, Simon W. Townsend, Thibaud Gruber, y Carel P. van Schaik 2019. Multimodal communication and language origins: Integrating gestures and vocalizations Biological Reviews. doi: 10.1111/brv.12535

Iverson, Jana M. y Susan Goldin-Meadow 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature 396(6708): 228-228.

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