Military Visual Language I was called on Christmas Eve.. ..with the question: “Don’t you do something with Military Visual Language? Would you care to come and explain that?” I immediately answered “Yes, I’d love to”, So I am going to talk to you about Military Visual Language. We use the term “Military Signs”.. ..but that does not quite cover it, since military signs are almost.. ..a language in itself.. ..that is dependent on several matters. I will tell you briefly about my background, then a bit of theory, followed by some examples in practice, and then I am going to put you to work. I understand we can use the entire floor for that, so we will. #laughter# I understand you are looking forward to it, that is good to know. As Marjan mentioned at the beginning, I have a background as a professional soldier.. ..and later switched to outdoor sports. What struck me as odd the first time I went outdoors, and with outdoors I mean airsoft, chasing after each other in the woods, what struck me was the lack of communications and coöperation. My first experience with that was as follows. A mission was given, “go over there and capture some flags”, a whistle was blown for start, and I though, alright, lets make plan! But what happened was that everybody ran
into the woods left and right, and there I was, alone, with my plan and my
military hand signals, feeling a bit silly. Right then I thought, I want to do something with this, so I got into.. ..outdoor sports and started developing.. ..trainings aimed at communication and cooperation.. ..in the field.. ..and under pressure. My initial plan for this presentation was.. ..45 minutes of presenting different signs.. ..but that would be a bit too much one-direction traffic. Orating for 45 minutes about handsignals is not much beyond.. ..what you could also find on the internet.. ..so that would not be really valuable. So I will approach the matter a bit more scientific.. ..and will talk about syntax, semantics and situation, – I understand I should step away from the screen now and then – ..so, about syntax, semantics and situation and the meaning of those together. For some of you, especially language oriented scientists, this is probably all very straightforward, but I cannot not tell this in the presentation. Syntax, is quite simply stated, just a shape. For example if we take, two tilted lines and a horizontal line, that is the syntax of the letter A. That is quite simple. And likewise, we also have a syntax in military hand signals. A syntax could be ##. This is a syntax. This is a syntax. This is a syntax. These are all just shapes, and without us giving a meaning to them, these shapes, mean nothing at all. So, I am going now towards semantics. The nice thing about semantics is, and we recognize that.. ..in all kinds of languages, visual language, sign language, is that semantics are an agreement.. ..within a certain group.. whether that is within a country, or with hearing and non-hearing people, or with soldiers or police officers, the semantics.. ..are agreed upon differently. As I heard in the earlier presentation, much of the meaning can be derived from the shape of the sign. If I point to my ear, I will probably mean something involving hearing. But in a military context it is rather important.. ..to be specific. Am I hearing something, or do I want you .. ..to listen at the door? Do I see something, or do I want you to watch something? This is a nice one too: With a police-officer, this has a different meaning than with a soldier. And this one .. ..has different meaning with soldiers, or with divers, for example. I have spent some time searching.. ..for different .. ..syntaxes.. ..for similar meanings. I have found several examples of syntax.. ..and the semantics .. ..for ‘male’. Police officers.. ..shall agree that a male suspect is designated by ‘beard’, that is a male person. And apparently in American.. ..Sign language, seen on the left side, ..meaning male, it is the male prefix. In Indian sign language it is.. ..I think a male body part.. ..being represented.. ..in front of the face. That is a male person. What makes it all even more special.. ..is everything regarding.. ..situation. That situation .. ..that is present.. ..has great significance for the syntax.. ..and the semantics. And I would like to give you some examples, samples.. ..with associated syntax and semantics. Behind you are two of my.. ..associates.. ..and they will now..
(I can be your associate!) #laughter#
I do not know if I meant you with ‘my associates’. So if I ask them to do something.. ..with sign language, ..then they will execute something. Thank you. You have seen the syntax.. ..and the semantics were apparent. A different syntax and semantics… (Can I ask something?)
Yes please, do ask your questions. (You gave an order, because you thought..) (..that something was going to happen).
Yes, I knew that. (But a second later, or a fraction of a second later,) (the situation has changed and you decide to leave them in the back. Then what?) (And what will they do then?)
Then I will come with the next order, there are many possibilities: to come to me anyway, or I will walk to them and start yelling in their ear, it is all possible. Mhm, a different sign that looks a lot like it, a very comparable syntax but with completely different semantics. And there they are doing something completely different. So you have seen the difference, give cover breach the door. (But the first one is..) (.. let me see, the first one was like this ) ( but why over your head? ) ( and the other was that you were going to listen at the door? ) ( Or that it is dangerous, ) ( or something ) ( like that? ) The military sign language is usually a bit exaggerated.. and often over the head for visibility.. also in dusk, dawn or over longer distances. So there is no reason to do it.. It is preferable to do it above head level. Giving cover is something like signifying cover against the rain, with many variants, we have made one like this. Breaching.. .. breaking your egg. And then together with ‘door’. And that is to say, in this case they were very gentle, normally you would do that with a sledgehammer, or kick in the door, or do something comparable. (But are we talking about Dutch, or American soldiers here?) A very good question, from the rear of the audience. Is this Dutch, or American military sign language? As I said in the beginning, it is agreed upon within certain groups. And Law Enforcement, for example in America, may have entirely different hand signals that police in the Netherlands have. There are, especially within NATO, a set of signs.. ..that are comparable.. ..but we do international exercises.. ..specifically with the goal of attuning these kinds of things. So it is certainly not unique, and I think it is just as.. I am sorry, it is not..
(universal?) universal, thank you, but may be unique per country or even per military unit.
(And what if somebody signs like this, but you do not understand it?) It probably won’t happen very often that will do an exercise together with NATO soldiers that you have never met before. but there are indeed several signs that are comparable.. ..and this is one of them. A different example where ‘situation’ has significant meaning.. ..so I will show the same sign.. ..but my buddies will do something different.
For now we will assume the current setting, this hall, it is peacetime, there is no fighting in the streets, and I will ask my men… #chuckling# They come to me very casually, and we’ll be having a conversation. Thank you.
#chuckling# ( ah, gathering around ) Indeed, gathering around me. Right, gathering. But now we will pretent we are in the field, and the night might be.. ..dark and full of soldiers, so we have to be aware and careful. The sign has remained the same. Thank you.
So there are completely different things.. ..happening that are.. ..dependent of.. ..the situation. And that makes the – and I do not know if it is the same with ordinary Sign Language – .. ..but especially with military sign language.. ..the situation is very important.. ..for the meaning of the sign.. ..as is Syntax and Semantics. ( Yes, it is the same with ordinary Sign Language, that the situation has some influence. But… )
Less? ( There is a bit of discussion about it, if the situation really has influence ) ( I am a bit in doubt about it, because at home you might say ) ( You did not comb your hair, but in the disco you would say ) ( No, I think I would indeed say it the same. ) ( No, but Marie says, sometimes if you ) ( talk about a different situation ) ( depending on where you are, wait a second, I cannot think of a proper example now ) ( But there may be two different situations in which you ) ( say, would use the same sign ) ( but it would have a different meaning, because of the situation ) ( Yes perhaps because of the emotions ) ( Yes, and the mimicry ) ( And for example, pointing, Bart says ) ( sometimes has to do with time ) ( for example at four o’clock ) ( at four o’clock ) ( a handsome man is standing at the bar ) ( and then you know what direction ) # laughter # ( Oh never mind ) ( and that is the direction of.. ah, I understand,
that man would be at 4 o’clock direction ) ( a handsome man, you would not say around but at ) ( and so you know where that handsome man would be ) ( It is more like a secret language then ) ( Women don’t use that but could, as a secret ) # laughter # Alright, so situation is indeed relevant.. ..and to go back to the example, ..what did I indicate with this arm.
With a soldier this means ‘slow down’. Are there divers or swimmers among you? Those who scuba dive or swim? With scuba divers and swimmers this is slapping the water, and means ‘help’. Help, help me. Now what happens.. ..if you have a military scuba diver and he makes this sign? # laughter # Very logical, if he is walking in the forest he means.. ..‘slow down’.. ..and if he is in the water he means ‘help me’. So the situation.. ..is very significant for.. ..the meaning.. ..of the signs. ( ehm.. ) ( And what happens if you do not know a sign? ) ( And a miscommunication happens, what happens then in that situation? ) Then people will… ( But you have agreed on those, the other lady says ) ( Yes, but can it go wrong? What happens then? )
If things go wrong, people die. ( Wow! )
Yes… ( But, I am curious, ) ( why doesn’t the army use our Sign Language, for the hearing impaired? ) ( Because that sign language ) ( is much richer, you have invent things yourself ) ( with only a limited vocabulary, and we
already have everything ) ( so why not use ours, that’s much easier. ). Good question!
( Yes, I think so too ) I think it has to do with several things. First of all, we try to make as many signs as possible with iconity? With iconicity?
(Iconicity) So, with iconicity, to make them. We try and make as many signs as possible.. ..where you might guess what it means. Secondly, almost all signs that we have, we want to make large, over the head. And you do quite a lot.. ..in front of your chest. But if I want to give my buddies behind me a sign, I also have to be able to do it behind me. A third difference is, that we do practically all signals one-handed. Because we are holding a gun with one hand, so with one hand.. ..I want to be able to indicate what I mean. And there are a few.. ..with two hands, which you could usually also do one-handed. The sign for ‘danger’, for example, is two crossed arms across the chest. I can do that one-handed. No more danger. Throwing away the danger. And I think those are the differences, because it sounds logical, But I think it is more nuanced.
( And they are often instructions ) Yes, that is a.. ..very good remark. You are just a bit sooner then I am,
but let’s answer it now. Another difference with military language is that it is usually.. ..an order. It is not a question or a suggestion, it is an instruction. You are now going to do this, because if you don’t, things go wrong. Things get destroyed, people get wounded, et cetera et cetera. So the.. ..environment, again, the situation in which.. ..we use military sign language, is very unique. ( I have a question ) (Normally, you could just call something out. ) ( And I think that – and I do not have a military background – but I think that if everybody ) ( needs to look at you constantly… ) Let me get back to that point in a minute! Can I park it? I will get back to it. Robin, you had a complementary remark? ( It can also be a sensorial observation. So it is not just orders but also observations. ) ( like ‘I hear’ or ‘I see’, ) (There are those too) ( so it is not only commands. ) Thank you for that extra information. So.. ..your question, is about this. For the people who already know this. How will a message be received. We have a sender, and a receiver, and a message passing through a medium. A certain medium may not be applicable for soldiers at all times, specifically the medium of speech. There are situations where the medium of speech.. ..is not available for us For example.. # gunfire sounds #
# instructor is hardly audible # ( Yes, so sign language. Gestures. That solves it. )
Indeed! So if we lose our medium of speech.. ..we do indeed have to resort to.. ..military sign language. Another situation is when we are sneaking, sneaking through forest or building, and we want to be sure.. ..that the enemy.. ..does not hear us. Of course then we cannot.. ..walk to each other every time to.. .. #whispering# whisper in each others ear. Rather inconvenient. Especially with a group of 10 people.. ..so for that situation we also use.. .. a language.. ..hand language, sign language. And to answer.. ..your question, and to ask of the group: if we cannot.. ..use our speech.. ..and you take that picture of sender and receiver.. ..back in your mind.. ..what makes that unique for the receiver of that message? What responsibility lies with him or her, with the potential receiver? ( That he has to keep an eye on the sender… )
( That they have to keep watching… )
Yes! Indeed! If I am on patrol with these men, and normally.. ..we would have 5 or 6 meter between us.. ..that would mean .. ..that they .. ..can watch me fairly easy but several times a minute I.. ..have to look behind me.. ..to see if a message is coming my way.. ..because we might lose each other otherwise. So indeed.. ..extra responsibilities lie with all members of.. ..the team.. ..to watch each other continually.. ..to see if a message might be incoming. ( Is that one-direction, or will they indicate they have understood it? ) Good question. If I give them an order.. ..there are two possibilities.
From the context I might see they are executing.. ..my order, so if I do this.. ..they may hustle towards me. # laughter # # chuckling # But if I give the order… so if I only give the order, we are moving out.. ..they will acknowledge it. And that is very important, because the acknowledgement shows me that .. ..the man behind me .. ..has understood it, and he will pass it on to Leo. Because you have to imagine that if we are sneaking through a dim forest.. ..with a 10 man squad.. ..the last man will never see me. So it is *forbidden* .. ..for Leo to react to me. He is doing nothing. And he is looking at Robin. Unless he is very explicitly # being pointed at # ( But can Leo also say something? ) # Laughter # No, unless there is.. ..a good reason for it. If he has something to ask.. ( if he needs to go to the toilet or something )
# laughter # That is a very justified question. If we are patrolling
through the forest for four or five hours, he has rights too. Then he just signs ‘halt’ and the whole group halts, then taps his shoulder, which is where my rank insignia are, so I know.. ..‘commander needed’, and Robin sees him making that sign, ..oh, that’s me, then I will hustle towards Leo.. “What!?” ( I need to pee ) ( But why can’t you just make a sign for ‘toilet’ ) We don’t have it! # Sign for toilet is made # Thanks! You may improvise.. ..that happens in the field too.
We shall not show you here how we.. ..improvise ‘I need to use the toilet’. Thank you, before it goes completely wrong here. ( There are some questions. And if you do not understand a sign, how do you say that? ) This is a great example of iconicity: #shrugs# ( Oh yes, ok )
I don’t understand! ( And do you need to repeat that? ) ( And to repeat yourself, ) ( to ask you to repeat yourself? ) The same. You just indicate ‘I do not understand’ and you either.. ..get the command again.. ..and if you still.. ..do not understand.. ..the responsibility lies with the sender. Alright, this meeting is about imagery, about the combination of visuals.. ..and language. And we use the military visual language.. ..in different situations.
Sometimes we use verbal language first, for example when explaining an order. Later in the field, it is translated into direct orders, in
part using imagery, better said, military sign language. Sometimes, the imagery supports language, for example when, after 24 or 36 hours in the field we have
lost our edge a bit, I might give the order to Leo:
Leo I want you to… ..cover the door. In that way I use two mediums.. ..to give him the same order… ..thereby doubling the chance that, though he has… ..slept too little… ..he still understands what I mean. Language and imagery.. ..can also complement each other in that way. Before I divide you.. ..into groups.. ..for practical exercises, are there any questions left? (Yes, I have one.) (What if you..) (To err is human..) (..even with the military..) (..what if you give a wrong sign..) (..and something goes really wrong?) (Then you die, right?) (Can you, based on the wrong signal,) (be judged?). Geesh, that is a really good question. Giving an order does not mean the recipient.. ..becomes a mindless robot. (But you are in charge?)
But I am the commander, so.. ..we know that maybe there are.. ..combatants behind this with guns. And nevertheless I tell them.. ..to breach the door, go inside, and face the danger. That is what we.. ..pay our soldiers to do, to risk their lives. Let that be said. If it goes really wrong, and.. ..the door is boobytrapped and we have a big explosion.. ..and Robin and Leo die, that is… (nooooo..)
# laughter # ..lightly injured then..
# laughter # The moment.. ..that we have crawled to the door very quietly.. ..and kick open the door to start shooting.. ..it hardly matters that I start yelling. At that time, I can just use my voice to say no, watch out, left, right, door, forwards, pull back. They are busy shooting, not with watching me.. ..every 20 seconds.. ..shoot, shoot, shoot, hmm, let me see. No, then I will use my voice.. ..and that then is.. ..a different situation and I can use my voice. Good question, thank you. More questions? No? Alright. What I would like to do with you, and I am first going to explain, then you can divide into groups, I would like to break you up into groups.. ..of 4 persons each. Four persons. And I would like you to carry out… ..4 assignments coming your way. 4 different assignments so every person in the team.. .. can take the role.. ..of commandant once. And the commandant decides, of course. The commandant is the boss. Robin or Leo will then give you.. as a group an assignment numbered.. ..1, 2, 3 or 4. And you must indicate to Leo or Robin when.. ..you are ready for the next assignment. You may use all forms of communication.. ..to explain.. ..which signs you are going to use. Because on the.. ..paper there are a couple of signs.. ..for example this one, or door, or window, You may explain those with.. ..language, speech, drawings, I do not care. The assignment itself, for example, take the group with you and dance the jig, that assignment you cannot show to the group. So at some time you can say, do we all understand these signs? Yes? Okay, from that moment on it is quiet, and is it the commanders mission.. ..to execute the assignment with the group. Once the assignment is done, the commanders role is passed on, and you can get a new assignment.. ..from Robin or Leo. (I foresee quite some chaos here then) Well! That would be great!
(Yes, is that great?) That is of course what this is all about. Perhaps there is a lot of.. ..talking and laughter.. ..and you still have to execute your assignment, perhaps at a distance. (In this room?) We can go outside, and use the hall. (And we only have 20 minutes) We can certainly pull that off. And when the 20 minutes are over.. #whistles# #chattering# I would really appreciate.. ..if the group of hearing and hearing impaired.. ..would mingle. Alright ladies and gentlemen, if I may request of you.. ..to be seated. (There is still a group outside)
Time is time, and military time is 5 minutes ahead of time. (Perhaps you should call them?) (Whistle, use your whistle) (Yes)
(Chattering) I think they have gone home.
#laughter# #chattering# #more chattering# How was it to do this? What was remarkable, what was different, what was strange? Fun, thumbs up. Fun to do, but difficult. Why difficult? (Within such a short timeframe, try to agree on all the signs, and execute the assignment). (Even though the assignment was very straightforward, it was..) (..very difficult.) Alright, I am looking around, two ladies, a gentlemen, three ladies, assignment four dit not go well entirely I think?
(I forgot to stay silent). (I kept on talking) Talking is very logical, we often go back to our natural behavior of speech. These people here kept making signs at me. (And why not? Sorry, that is of course the easiest to do me, use signs).
Right, and that is the same for these.. ..people who will.. ..start talking. (Assignment 4 was not completed because..) (..because that group sat down there again..) (..and we had to go back to our original place.)
And that was of course the interesting thing about assignment four, it contained some coordination between the groups. The first three assignments only concerned your group, but assignment 4 was suddenly about.. ..coordination with another group. And you notice the complexity then changes completely. What I really appreciated was that people dared.. to be bossy. To take the commanders role while I see in practice.. ..that some people find that difficult, to dare to be bossy. We’re not used to that, we usually strive for consensus. I wanted to see how she translates that.
#laughter# The boss-thing is of course a rather military thing. And I enjoyed watching that. You, sit there, and you sit there. The funny thing is, if you are used to that, and I saw this it happening here within 10 minutes, if you get used to that, you find a new mode of.. ..working together and I really enjoyed seeing that. Any other question? (Yes, I kept loosing them..) (..because it was very busy here). (But you cannot say anything).
Yes, the responsibility of the potential receiver.. ..was also in watching.. ..the potential sender. So they also have to watch you, and then you can.. Last two questions. (What I find difficult, and I notice that here, is to take it seriously.) (I can imagine that as a soldier, that as long as you are..) (..not in a really dangerous situation..) (..that you, that you..)
There you mentioned a great word. Situation. If we go.. ..into a kill house together.. ..fully equipped, warpaint on, we have
received orders and there are bullets.. ..in our weapons, and we are training to go to war, ..I guarantee you, no laughter there. Because it is about practicing for life and death. Last question. (You said signs can be different per country, is that also the case within different service branches?) Good question. I think the airmobile brigade and the Korps Commandotroepen use.. ..a larger vocabulary. They have a more extensive palet. So the.. ..basic signs are the same.. ..but they will have much more, or more specific situations. The average infantryman.. ..will usually not deal.. ..with hostages. But commando’s might deal with hostage situations. So they have signs for that. Then I want to thank you for your time and attention,
and I will give the floor back to Marjan. #applause#