Signs and space in Arandic sand narratives

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In everyday interactions multiple semiotic resources work together to form loosely coordinated partnerships or “ensembles” (Kendon 2004a, 2008). People sketch on shared spaces, gesture and diagram objects in the air, and point to real and fictive locations. In some communities sign languages are the primary mode of communication, and in others sign is used, either with or without speech. For decades now Kendon has posed the question as to how different expressive modalities are organized in communication and how they “trade off,” one in relation to the other (Kendon 1987: 93, 2004a: 351). This chapter takes a close look at one aspect of the ways such semiotic partnerships are formed in a unique form of communication – sand stories from Central Australia. In particular I will examine some of the spatial aspects of conventionalized sign in these narratives, and detail how the sand space provides an additional dimension for the articulation of meanings that are distributed between various spaces and modalities.


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