Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mime, a Foundation of Language

I was listening to a linguist/anthropologist on a radio program expound on his theory that even before we humans assigned meaning to sounds and groups or sequences of sounds we were communicating by what we today consider mime. He was so animated as he spoke; I could imagine the gestures and facial expressions he must have been using to emphasize his points. Not only, he claimed (as a result of long and careful research), did we communicate with each other that way but also with different species!

And I think of how a lab environment must have been set up. First people would have been put in close proximity and told they could only communicate without using language. Of course it will work; ask any immigrant placed among people whose language is totally foreign to them. You make yourself understood by gestures. It's no great leap to conceive that such must have been the case when there was no recognizable language at all. We still use mime and mime type movements to emphasize what we say. That's known as body language.

Body language is also a large component of how we communicate with other species. Anyone who trains dogs, etc. will tell you that motion is as important as tone of voice and more so than specific words. We have been communicating with other species as long as we've been around; there is nothing new here.

Let me tell you, too, about poetry and mime, about poetry and motion. In the earliest times descriptions of activities and events must have depended on the poet/storyteller miming those acts. The great epic poems needed action to impress and deliver their meaning. The bard did not simply sit by the fire or at the table and speak; he got on his feet, proclaimed, gestured and mimed. When he spoke of the hero, he would strut, stick out his chest, raise that powerful arm. When he spoke of the defeated enemy he would make himself look weak, beaten, and slink

It all holds true today. The better speaker is the one who engages you with gesture and motions as well as sound. The poet who will be heard and admired more is one who does not simply read or say his words. He must get up on his feet, raise his body and his voice to proclaim.

The language of the voice, words and sounds so intricately woven, enhanced and emphasized by mime, the language of the body.

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