People living in areas where the index or the “pointer” finger is the norm when pointing may think that this communication method is a universal gesture….but it is not.
According to the paper The Protean Pointing Gesture, lip-pointing — instead of finger-pointing — in one form or another is a method used not just among Filipinos, but also widely used by those living in other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Africa, and South America.
If you know Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who grew up in the Philippines, you will know what I mean by lip-pointing. If you haven’t seen it, here is a great description from Lisa who blogs at mymovetothePhilippines.com:
Filipino lip pointing is actually more than just a simple puckering up. First there’s eye-to-eye contact, followed by variations of lip pursing, combined with a eyebrow, head and neck action, the execution of which all depends on the intention of the pointer.
Non-Filipinos who have observed this gesture find it confusing, and sometimes hilarious. Foreigners should be wary of this practice. A Filipina puckering her lips doesn’t necessarily mean she’s asking for a kiss. She could just be pointing to something on your shoulder. She might slap you in the face, if you misinterpret.
One of the most common reasons for lip pointing is to give quick directions, of which explaining verbally would take a longer time.
So, if you’re at a mall, and you ask a Filipino who’s carrying grocery bags up to his arms where the rest room is, he might purse his lips then extend his neck to the direction of the restroom in one smooth action. Or he would purse his lips, lift his head up, and turn it to his left, which means: walk straight ahead, and make a left turn at the next corner. A head bobble before the head lift would mean pass two aisles down before making a left. If he over extends his neck, bends a bit, and stretches his lips outward, it means you’ve got a farther ways to walk.
According to the study, finger-pointing is one of the first gestures a human baby uses to communicate, even before they can speak. And this is seen everywhere and across cultures. So does this mean lip-pointing is something one learns?
But if it is also common for people from a particular region of the world to lip-point (e.g., Southeast Asia) then is it possible that lip-pointing is also an inherited trait?
If my U.S.-born grandsons (who are part Filipino) decide to move and live in a country where lip-pointing is common, will they easily convert to this method?
Unfortunately, the question of whether lip pointing is an inherited or a learned behavior is not answered in the study, so we will have to wait for further research.
But what do you think…learned or inherited? After all, it is not easy to teach someone how to lip-point.
Speaking of more research, can they can also find out why Filipinos and Thais sniff kiss?
I do wonder if modern Filipinos point less with their lips, and like the rest of the so-called WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) societies, switch exclusively to pointing with their index finger. I hope not, as I find lip-pointing an endearing Filipino trait, and one I hope is kept by modern and future Filipinos.
For a funny take on Filipino lip-pointing, check out this YouTube video and Auntie Advice from the HappySlip Channel.
Unless with family, I rarely point with my lips now, compared to when I first immigrated to the U.S…so yes, I now point the WEIRD way.
If you are Filipino living outside the Philippines, do you still lip-point?
- See my tongue-in-cheek take on why Filipinos sniff kiss, here
- And for further reading discussing the study, see the National Geographic article The Point of Pointing and the study The Protean Pointing Gesture: Variation in a Building Block of Human Communication.
- Related: Post about What countries are in Southeast Asia
And another clip on YouTube featuring the Filipino-American comedian Jo-Koy talking about his 3 1/2 year old and his lip-pointing Filipina mother…
And oh wow, just in time for the 2014 Holiday Black Friday shopping, see this Wal-Mart ad targeting Asian Americans — specifically one in Tagalish featuring an actor who…yes indeed… points with his lips.