The hands, head, and brow: A sociolinguistic study of Māori gesture

James Gruber, Jeanette King, Jen Hay, Lucy Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the speech-accompanying gesture and other kinesic behaviour of bilingual English-Māori and monolingual English speakers in New Zealand. Physical expression has long been regarded a key component of Māori artistic and spoken performance, as well as in personal interactions. This study asks (1) if there are gestures more common to or exclusively employed by the Māori population of New Zealand and (2) if their frequency and form is influenced by speaking Māori? More generally, the study considers the effect of different languages on gesture within the same speaker. Four bilingual Māori and six monolingual New Zealanders of European ancestry were recorded providing similar narrations. We report three differences between the speaker groups: a prevalence among Māori speakers for flat-handed motion gestures, gestures of the head, and eyebrow flashes. The findings highlight the probabilistic nature of culturally-grounded variation in gesture and the appropriateness of sociolinguistic approaches to their study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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