What are signs
Hand signs and gestures have been used by mankind for centuries and are considered to be the most widely used method of nonverbal communication. In situations where oral communication is impractical or unintelligible due to long distances or noise interference, hand signs are among the most efficient methods of communication. They are used in modern day by numerous groups and occupations which use a specific set of signs with predetermined meanings which quickly and effectively communicate pertinent information.
Some signals are universally recognized and understood while others are more obscure. Sign Language, is perhaps the best example of nonverbal communication using hand signs. With more than 7,000 signs used in American Sign Language, it allows it’s users to convey the breadth of the English language. Many of the signs used in ASL are intuitive and in some way mimic or parody the shape or motion of the word represented. The intuitiveness of certain signs are what make this communication method so powerful. For example, if someone shakes a clenched fist at you, it’s clear that they are upset. If somebody wraps their hands around their throat, most people would recognize that they may be choking.
Some signs, however, are not as easily discerned, sometimes by design. Military personnel, for example, may use hand signs to communicate instructions and tactics with one another amidst a dangerous situation. In this case, they would require the signs to be obscure so that enemy would have difficulty understanding their meaning and deciphering their intent.
Signs and their meanings can vary widely in usage according to context and geographic location. For example, the “OK” sign (thumb and index finger touching to form a circle, with the others extended upwards) in the United States, is widely used to signal that you are not in distress and are alright. In Australia and South America, the same sign would be perceived as an offensive gesture.
Who uses signs
Referees at sporting events are a classic example of a predetermined method of nonverbal communication using signs with the hands and arms. The referee can quickly and effectively convey a complex message to the players and other officials over the deafening roar of the crowd, and can be seen and understood from the far reaches of the venue. These clear unmistakable signs remain useful for this purpose even with the advancement of technology and radio communication allows the referee’s voice to be heard by all. Divers, snorkelers, cyclists, baseball players, and even military personnel use nonverbal signs when an acoustic means of communication is either inappropriate or impractical.