In 2011, the documentary filmmaker, Luca Vullo, wrote and directed a short film about Italian hand gestures called ‘La Voce del Corpo’ (‘The Voice of the Body’). Since the release of the film, Vullo has toured the world’s universities, including those in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Australia, to teach this peculiar branch of body language.
At every university he visits, Vello finds an enthusiastic audience, eager to understand what’s behind this non-verbal, but so efficient, way of making oneself understood.
I ask Vullo about the rich heritage of gestures in Italy, their origins and what other nationalities make of them.
First of all, how many gestures are there?
‘There are nearly 250 gestures used every day throughout Italy, and all of them have a different meaning. Not everyone uses all 250, of course, and there are differences between the North and South, with people from the South of Italy gesticulating much more, for historical, cultural and social reasons. But even those who might not gesticulate that much, know the languages of hands, because it’s a common code among Italians we taught in childhood. A Briton or a German isn’t able to crack this code. For them all these gesture have no meaning at all’.
So it’s thanks to our historical immigrants that we have this ability?
‘It’s certainly one of the reasons. Many different populations have immigrated us to in our history and we have had the need to communicate without knowing their languages. That’s why we have developed a common language using gesture. Today, Italians have inherited great communication skills. But don’t forget that throughout our history, Italians have emigrated as well. We have been displaced to countries around the world with the need to communicate with the locals’.
Do you think the global perception of Italian hand gestures have been reduced to a stereotype?
‘Yes, but far from being a stereotype, it’s a real language and we should be proud of it. No other culture has developed such a complex language as the Italians have, and I find it fascinating to study in depth. I’ve done some research and I’ve discovered that while other cultures use their hands to communicate, Italian hand language is more complex incorporating facial expression and sometimes the whole body. A simple hand gesture could have two or three different meanings’.