What I’ve Learned at Gallaudet: Mime and Gesture Vs. Sign


Mime and Gesture Verses Sign

I learned about the differences between mime, gesture, and sign in my ASL 403: Communication in Gestures course taught by Dr. Mike Kemp. It was quite possibly the best class I have had at Gallaudet. Dr. Kemp had a unique way of teaching. One test. One paper. Complete immersion.

I learned things in his class that I do not think that I would have ever learned in any other course. If I had been in any other class, I would have read about the subject, written about the subject, and discussed the subject, but I would never have learned the subject as well as I did without those things.

Dr. Kemp had three rules in his classroom, no mouthing, no signing, and no fingerspelling. Everything had to be gestured or, as a last resort, written on the marker board with as few words as possible. We started out with easy gestures: how to introduce ourselves, describe people and things, and give simple directions. Then, we moved on to harder, more complex gestures where we discussed abstract ideas, politics, religion, and many other topics without ever using a single sign.

It is not as easy as it seems, but it is well worth learning. I encourage anyone learning ASL to take a Visual Gestural Communication course. It helps you to feel more comfortable moving your face and body and helps you to learn how to acquire new vocabulary through contextualization. It also helps you to learn how to adapt to those you meet who do not use the same signs or sign language that you do.

One day, he asked us about mime and gesture. How were they different? None of us really knew, so he proceeded to show us. He never lectured on the subject or gave us a definition. He simply gave us an example. This example has stuck with me and helped me better understand what mime, gesture, and sign really are and how and when they should be used.

He made up a story about a flat tire and a man changing it on the side of the road. For the first example, he moved around the room, stepping to the side as he got out of the car, walking around the length of the invisible car to the trunk, putting his arms around the invisible spare, and kneeling down to remove the old tire. Everything was life-sized. The size of objects and his actions were all done as though he was actually changing a flat–you could have inserted a real car there and he would have actually changed a tire.

For his second example, he stood in one place. All he did was move his hands and body just enough to give us the picture of him changing a tire. He never used any signs. He only used classifier-like handshapes to show parts of the car and his actions. Everything was on a smaller scale. No real car could have been inserted there. This type of rendition was more like storytelling while the previous example had been more along the lines of an actor acting without props.

Then, he gestured, “The first example is mime. The second example is gesture.”

It made sense. It clicked. I finally realized how they were all different.

Mime is like acting. Everything is life-sized and real-world. Anyone can understand it. You can use mime for entertainment purposes or if gesturing is not enough to get your point across. You can walk around the room or stage. You can kneel, jump, walk, sit, or do any other action because it is just like acting. You can also use some props if you want.

Gesture is like storytelling. It does not use any signs from a specific language, so most anyone can understand it. It brings less attention to yourself if you are trying to communicate with someone who does not know ASL and it comes in handy for events where people from different countries will be present together. It is more time efficient than mime is. You stand in one place and your hand and body movements are “smaller.” You use classifiers (handshapes that resemble how objects look) instead of acting. You do not use props. It is the closest communication form to sign language.

Sign Language uses some of the same rules as gesture. You typically stand in one place and almost nothing is referred to in life-size, real-world ways. It will have more abstract signs than gesture and not everyone will understand it–it will only be understood by its own community. It will have a complete and complex grammar. It can introduce new vocabulary and discuss difficult topics more easily because it is even more time efficient than gesture is. Signs can have more than one meaning whereas most gestures have only one meaning. Sign Language also changes over time as people use or don’t use certain signs.

This was probably the most fascinating thing that I learned in Dr. Kemp’s class. I can now see mime, gesture, and sign and know the difference. He taught me that and it has stuck with me. I will never forget the valuable lessons he gave us in his Gestures in Communication class.

*In honor of the late Dr. Mike Kemp*


8 Responses to “What I’ve Learned at Gallaudet: Mime and Gesture Vs. Sign”

  1. Fikisiwe Says:

    This was very helpfull for my assingment, thank u.

  2. colleen Says:

    I am even more excited now…I read this part of your blog quite a while ago…I enjoyed and appreciated what I had learned…now, I think years later (maybe 2)…I put in a search (about visiting Gallaudette) and I found your writing again…and didn’t realize it was you until now 🙂 now you know, I am going to have to read them all 🙂

  3. Casey Says:

    I hope you enjoy them, Colleen!

  4. Elise Marie Barton Says:

    I think thats really cool. I think a class like that would be really fun. It reminds me of Charades!!

  5. Elise Marie Barton Says:

    Thats Very helpful. I would really like to take a class like that. It remindes me of charades!!

  6. d7play Says:

    Reblogged this on Deaf Cavs Club.

  7. Casey Says:

    Miming is a lot like charades! I’m glad you found this blog helpful, Elise!

    Thank you, d7play for reblogging!

  8. Anita Says:

    This was really helpful for my assignment too, thank you very much

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