After a check of starting conditions (‘take uh:. is there water there?’, line 1), a sequence of pointing gestures accompanies a three-barreled request: ‘take this gallon’, ‘pour some water’, ‘put it on the fire’.
Bella is holding Aku’s phone and taking a call Aku asked her to pick up. Speaking into the phone, she notes she is ‘not sister Aku’. When it becomes clear the caller wants Aku, Aku asks Bella to give the phone back, adding a gesture of reaching out to receive the phone. These kinds of events (‘recruitments’) are frequent in everyday interaction and show how people weave together talk and action to get others to do things.
My dear friend Ruben Owiafe was one of the most colourful Siwu teachers I had. His explanation of what it means to provide folk definitions is insightful in terms of both its content and form. As he explained, they enable you to see one thing in terms of another: “If you see this here” (points to his right), “you see how it is here” (points to his left). Figures and diagrams in academic publications serve the same kind of purpose. They provide us with different ways of seeing, and help us understand by analogy.
Ideophones have rich imagistic meanings that can be hard to describe. In explaining the ideophone minimini, four speakers of Siwu independently use gestures that are both similar (in depicting a spherical shape) and different (in size, handshape, and method of representation). Collectively, the gestures illustrate an elusive aspect of the ideophone’s meaning while also showing that its linguistic form as spoken word is more conventionalized than the gestures it comes with.
“So she was weird today,” Kofi says. In response to Aku’s “What?”, Kofi closes his eyes and moves jerkily from side to side. All present turn to him to watch. Aku checks: “The spirit- the spirit’s been coming again?” Kofi confirms and tells a story of spirit possession. The segment, only a few seconds long, illustrates both universal and culture-specific aspects of social interaction.
On the ground is a plate of metal on which two small amounts of gunpowder have been laid to dry in the sun; besides it stands the speaker, explaining why one needs to be careful when igniting the gunpowder to test its quality: it may flare up “SHÛ, SHÛ”, a vocal depiction that is produced in precise synchrony with the two hands moving symmetrically in a quick upward motion. (The right hand holds an object.)