Hebrew Letters, Gesture & Language

Language and Gesture: Index

These posters demonstrate the hand-gestures used to form the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.

At the personal level, the 22 letter-gestures can be used to project meaning from one's mind into the world. In many cases, spelling Hebrew root words by means of these gestures directly demonstrates the functional meaning of the word.

This animation of Stan Tenen illustrating the Hebrew letter-gestures Ayin, Gimel, Dalet, and He is courtesy Ron Engert.  Mr. Tenen demonstrates all of the 22 letter-gestures on the Meru Foundation videotapes Dance of the Hebrew Letters, The Alphabet in our Hands (part 1 and 2),and Squaring the Circle.  To order Meru videotapes, go to www.meetingtent.com.

The Hebrew Letters — FIRST HAND ©1996 SNT
Showing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in various historically known fonts, compared with
the Meru Foundation font created as shadows of the FIRST HAND sculpture.
Upper body postures courtesy of Karen Ann Carty.

Hebrew Alphabet Gestures ©1996 SNT
A demonstration of the gestures used to view the Hebrew letters
as shadows of the First Hand model. Upper body postures courtesy of Karen Ann Carty.

Six Gesture-Letter Views ©1997 SNT
Close-ups of six hand-gesture letter-positions, with computer renderings of the First Hand model
showing the same letter-position by Jim Fournier

Considerable research has been done on the subject of the gestural origins of language in the three years since we first published these Hebrew alphabet gestures. For those interested in this research, the articles below are highly recommended.

Excerpts from Why People Gesture When they Speak, ©1998 by Iverson and Goldin-Meadow
(Reprinted with authors' permission. Complete article published in Nature, November 19, 1998)
Research shows that persons blind from birth gesture while speaking in the same manner
and using the same range of gestures as do sighted persons --
even when speaking with another blind person.

Also highly recommended:
The Gestural Origins of Language, ©1999 by Michael Corballis
(as published on the website of The American Scientist, the Sigma Xi Journal, March-April 1999 issue)
This article presents a wide range of research, including that of Iverson and Goldin-Meadow
on the subject of gesture and language.

The Role of the Hand in the Evolution of Language, by Prof. Ullin T. Place
(as published on the website of Psycoloquy, a refereed online journal, January 2000 issue)
This important article by Prof. Place was published shortly after his death in January 2000 in Psycoloquy, an
online referred journal sponsored by the American Psychological Association.  The following is an excerpt from the Abstract:
"Section III sets out eleven pieces of evidence for the view that vocal language must have been preceded by an earlier language of gesture.
Based on those principles and evidence, Section IV sets out seven proposed stages in the process whereby language evolved:
(1) the use of mimed movement to indicate an action to be performed, (2) the development of referential pointing which,
when combined with mimed movement, leads to a language of gesture, ..."

Articles from the New York Times:
The New York Times has recently published several news articles relating to the topic of gesture and the evolution of language.  The articles below are available from the New York Times online archives.  Readers will need to join the NY Times Online Service to read these articles; this service is free, and gives access to the Times' entire online archives. (If you are not already a member of the Times Online Service, a membership screen will appear when you click on either of the links below.)

Discovery of Egyptian Inscriptions Indicates an Earlier Date for Origin of the Alphabet
Article by John Noble Wilford, published in the New York Times, 13 November 1999
The print edition of the Times published a picture in conjunction with this article which is not included in the Internet version.
This picture is referred to in the article as a glyph of a man with arms upraised, which later developed into the letter H, the author says, "for reasons unknown."

This symbol bears a remarkable resemblance to the letter-gesture proposed by the Meru Foundation for the Hebrew letter "He."
A reproduction of this picture from the NY Times, and a comparison with the Meru letter-gesture for the letter "He" are
    posted here on the Meru Foundation website.

What We All Spoke When the World Was Young
Feature Article on Joseph H. Greenberg, from the NY Times series, Scientist at Work
Written by Nicholas Wade, published in the New York Times, 1 February 2000
Dr. Greenberg's hypothesis on how languages spread and evolve sees relationship in words with related meanings
in languages that current linguistic scholarship considers to be unrelated.  This article refers to a chart showing the close relationship
of words in several different languages having meanings related to the concepts of one, finger, or point.  Dr. Greenberg does not include
Hebrew, but the hand-gesture for the letter Yod, meaning "I," "me", "to me", and point/pointer (as an expression of personal
will or volition) as pictured on the Meru letter-gesture chart, is clearly consistent with his findings.  Yad, "hand," spelled Yud-Dalet (I-D),
fits the pattern of root letters used to spell the word meaning "pointer" throughout Dr. Greenberg's chart.
View Dr. Greenberg's Chart on Words meaning "one," "finger," or "point"
View the Meru Foundation Chart of Hebrew Letter-Gestures

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