FULL BODY EFFORT – Why Italians speak with their hands…

FULL BODY EFFORT – Why Italians speak with their hands…

Full body effort, also required when speaking in Italy. No other country in the world is as famous for its gestures and body language as Bella Italia. And – let’s not fool ourselves – Italians are masters of non-verbal communication. How this developed is a matter of debate among scientists…

Hollywood star Antony Quinn († 2001)

“Italian is a sign language whose intelligibility is defied by words”.

Photo: Eve Arnold (CC BY-NC 2.0)


Any average conversation in Italy is reminiscent of an operetta drama. The posture supports what is said, plus the change in pitch and volume, looks, gestures and sometimes grimaces. Such conversations are pure life, captivating. The eyes and ears of all those who are in Italy for the first time are wide open.

two italian men are talking with their hands
Discussion with hands (and sometimes feet), normal in Italy
Photo: Goodshoot/Photo Images

While most foreigners have inhibitions about talking wholeheartedly, gestures are the second mother tongue for Italians. Gestures have a meaning of their own – they are not just an underline or emphasis. Gestures overcome barriers, generate empathy and warmth. Look at how an Italian orders espresso in a bar without saying a single word…

And why is it only in Italy that people talk with so much passion?

a woman talks withh their hands - gestures in italy
Gestures are virtually like a second language in Italy – hard for strangers to understand
Photo by SDI Production/Getty Images Signature

Theory 1: Gestures as a Secret Language

According to this theory, the strong gesticulation can be traced back to the time of Italy’s foreign colonisation. Over the centuries, Italians:in developed gestures as a kind of alternative form of communication – a kind of secret language vis-à-vis their Austrian, French and Spanish liege lords. 

you see a very narrow street in napoli/south italyA typical street in Naples: How does anyone listen to you here?
Photo Marco Rosario Venturini Autieri/Getty Images Signature über can va.com

Theory 2: Gestures for Attention

According to a study by the University of Rome, there are at least 250 Italian gestures. Professor Isabella Poggi has researched the subject in the field of psychology. According to her, gesturing dates back to the time of the Greek colonization of the south.

At that time, the cities were so narrow and densely populated that you had to somehow get attention in the crowd of people. As long as you wanted attention from your interlocutor, you had to draw attention to yourself. 

By the way, the Italian director Luca Vollu (documentary film “La voce del corpo”, the language of the body) now even offers workshops on gesture language at English universities – the demand is huge. 

Coming soon, part 2: the most important gestures in Italy: let your hands speak…

FOR MORE STORIES ABOUT ITALY: https://la-bella-vita.club



you see a girl with different bags


written by Annie Kayser

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