Comparison of Wikipedia Articles in German and English: “Gesture” versus “Gestik”

In a comparison of articles from the English and the German Wikipedia one can see that, in many cases, the German pages are merely translations of the English ones. However, the articles on Gesture and Gestik vary greatly, which is why I decided to take a closer look at them and compare them in detail.

The German article is not simply a translation of the English one. In fact, the German article was created on August 12th, 2003 and the English one was created four months later on December 16th, 2003. The English page has 678 distinct authors whereas the German one only has 96 authors. So far, approximately nine times more edits have been made in the English version than in the German version (1,247 versus 141 edits). It is remarkable that in spite of all these edits, the English version still has issues and needs improvement concerning two of Wikipedia’s three core content policies.

One of the issues with the article that is mentioned is verifiability. Verifiability is one of the core principles of Wikipedia. This principle states that any content in an article has to be cited and has to be supported by sources. A reader must be able to track where any information in an article comes from. If this is not the case, the reader can doubt that the sources are reliable. One example where the English article needs improvement concerning this issue can be seen in chapter 2 when the author states that “the function of gestures may have been a significant player in the evolution of language”1 . No source is provided to support this claim, meaning that it is not verified.

Another principle of Wikipedia related to verifiability is that an article is not allowed to contain original research. If the editor does not provide reliable sources, the information is likely to be original research which contravenes Wikipedia’s policies. In the last paragraph of chapter two, the author compares precursors of American Sign Language with gestures used by chimpanzees. Since this comparison is not supported by reliable sources, it violates Wikipedia’s principles.

The German article is well structured and goes into detail about what a gesture is, and how it is connected to language. It is subdivided into three chapters. The first one explains the different types of gestures. The second chapter describes the main features of gestures, the relationship between gestures and language as well as the perspectives of gestures and the lexical affiliate. The third chapter contains secondary literature.

In contrast, the English article is structured less neatly. It is subdivided into seven chapters. The first one consists of only one paragraph on studies on gestures. The second one explains the categories of gestures, but the connection between gestures and language is also mentioned here. Another paragraph in this chapter is about American Sign Language (ASL). The German article does not mention sign language since it is a natural language that consists of many different elements and cannot be explained with just gestures.

The third chapter is a chapter on the social significance of gestures. In the German article the link to the page interkulturelle Kompetenz can be found. This page includes a chapter on how gestures can be interpreted differently in different cultures. In the English Wikipedia, this connection is not made. A page on cultural competence exists, however, that page needs improvement. Also, there is a page on cross-cultural competence and one on intercultural competence. These three pages could be merged and the different meanings of gestures in different cultures could be explained in this context rather than on the page about gestures.

The fourth chapter is called “Neurology” and explains how gestures are processed in neural networks. The neurolinguistic aspect of gestures is a very complex topic. It might be better to write about it on a separate page. The German article does not mention this topic at all. This is one aspect that could be improved in the German version. There should be at least a link to another article stating the neurolinguistical background of gestures. Chapter 5 mentions the electrical interface in one sentence and refers to a main article on gesture recognition. Chapter 6 also gives suggestions on further articles, chapter 7 contains references. Important content is missing in the English version. The phases of a gesture, the perspectives of gestures, or the lexical affiliate are not explained.

What I found remarkable is the choice of images. In the German article, one can see a picture of a referee making a gesture to let the players know about a decision he made. This is a very neutral representation of the use of gestures. In the English article, one picture shows how a US navy helicopter lands with the help of gestures. Another one is an older advertisement for the US army. I had not expected to be confronted with the cultural differences between Germany and America in the articles about gesture, especially since the English Wikipedia is not only used by American English speakers.

Overall, it is interesting to see how different two pages on the same topic can be, and how speakers of different languages get different information using Wikipedia. If someone speaks more than one language, it can be very useful to read an article in multiple languages, compare the articles, and thus make better use of Wikipedia.

  1. Gestures. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 3, 2014, from []

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