Studies on Sign Writing

James/Judy Shepard-Kegl kegl at MAINE.RR.COM
Mon Jul 7 23:38:45 UTC 2003


> Two, my idea is to take someone that already knows sign language and someone
> that does not know sign language. Teach them both signwriting. Then give them
> some materials that they have not seen and ask them to read the sign writing
> to an audience that understands sign language. In theory they should be able
> to be understood equally well. This could benefit a library through story time
> readings and ultimately meeting the needs of a population that is not
> currently being served. What do you think? Are there any studies done like
> this?


For the sake of argument, let's assume that you do not speak Spanish.  You
can still "read" Spanish in the sense that the ABC system is the same as in
English.  Of course, your accent would be off, you would mispronounce some
of the words, and your misuse of inflection would render your "reading"
unintelligible to your Spanish listeners.

Body language (inflection, if you will) is very much a part of ASL, or any
sign language.  SignWriting often catches the body movements, although the
author might choose to omit some elements -- the fluent reader will
understand them, just as you understand the inflections in English.  The
reader who does not understand the language will do a very poor job of
reading for viewers.  There might be some comprehension by very tolerant
viewers, but that's all.  Respectfully, your testing design is flawed.
> Another idea, is to take to people that do not know sign language and teach
> one using traditional ASL dictionaries and the other with signwriting
> dictionaries and compare the results. I would suspect the signwriting
> dictionaries would be more beneficial and increase the learning rate. Again
> what do you think and are there any similar studies?

There is a great deal more to learning a language than vocabulary.  You need
grammar and syntax, too.  In fact, vocabulary is the easiest part.  So, one
does not learn ASL from dictionaries.  You learn by being with fluent
signers, and by being taught and corrected by fluent signers.

However, you are quite correct that SignWriting serves as a tremendous aid
in teaching hearing people to sign.  The reason is that it is not only
easier to depict each sign, but entire sentences (with all their grammatical
and syntactic complexities) can be presented in SignWriting.  Furthermore,
the act of writing in SignWriting serves as a tremendous aid in the learning
process.  Advocates often point to how SignWriting can assist Deaf people in
learning to read a spoken language.  But, in my experience, it works both
ways.  I found SignWriting extraordinarily useful in my efforts as a hearing
person to learn to sign.

-- James Shepard-Kegl (Maine)

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