Fan mail from a linguist on the sidelines

Rebecca Larche Moreton mlrlm at OLEMISS.EDU
Fri Jul 18 11:06:22 UTC 2003

Dear SignWriters:

Here are two letters which I have sent to Valerie over the past few
months; at her suggestion, I am posting them to the List. Sometimes I
get very much excited about the progress of SignWriting as it spreads
around the world, and I just have to tell Val!

First letter:
On Monday, June 2, 2003, at 03:57 AM, Rebecca Larche Moreton wrote:

Dear Val:

I have been (sort of ) following all the wild discussions of the use of
the new SW materials, etc., which has been going on for the past couple
of months. I say sort of because  it s all gibberish to me, when I am
able at last to get serious about learning ASL, I will have to get
somebody else to read the discussions and instructions and set it up for
me. But in the last set of messages, I thought maybe you might be able
to approach MacIntosh to see whether they could help in some way, either
with actual work or with money to finance some of what needs to be done.
Think about it: here is a tool (SW) that has the potential to
revolutionize the teaching of general education courses for the Deaf AND
at the same time to impact relations between Deaf/non-Deaf worlds, and
that will have lots of other effects we cannot even imagine, and it can
only be done well on the Mac platform right now. Would that not be a
wonderful advertising gimmick for that company? (Alternatively: go to
the other guys and get them to help, since it is the incompatibility
between Mac and non-Mac that is causing the trouble right now.) Just a

Also: do you know whether anybody is working on a teaching grammar of
ASL, using SW in the same way one would use Arabic letters in a book or
web-based course in Arabic for non-Arabic speakers? I have finally
located a very well-qualified person to help me learn ASL and am quite
excited to get started (she has a new baby and I have gone back to
teaching French half-time, so we are having trouble getting together,
but she has collected all the material she thinks will be of use to me,
and I will give her (lend her) my SignWriting books and introduce her to
the website so that she  can see what is going on in this area! We will
meet only once a week at first, it's all we can manage! I expect that
learning ASL will of course take a long time, but I think that once I
get the hang of it, I should be able to read in SW any sign that I have
learned to make, and then also I should be able to figure out from
looking at the SW version of a sign, how to make it. Now, if I also had,
besides the SW sign, an English equivalent of its meaning, I could
really work on my own a lot in learning new signs. This would not be
perfect, of course, because it is like learning to read Finnish without
hearing much of it, still, if I work with my new friend regularly and
also look at videos of ASL (the equivalent of listening to audiotapes of
Finnish), and seek out other users of ASL to try to talk to, I ought to
be able to make a lot of headway! A grammar done in SW would be great,
and I hope somebody is doing one.

As always, I enjoy reading the messages on the list even when I can't
understand what they are saying!


Second letter
From: Rebecca Larche Moreton <mlrlm at>
Date: Mon Jul 14, 2003  05:51:46  AM US/Central
To: Valerie Sutton <sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG>

Dear Val:

As I think I told you, I had had to turn off the SW List some months ago
because I could not read many many of the messages, they all came in
gobbledegook and the website manager (?) could not help me. Then some
weeks ago the list suddenly began coming to me again, on its own, and
with everything all right!  So for some time now I have been enjoying
again reading what-all is going on with SW and its international spread.
And I am again fascinated: do you realize that on to of everything else,
the development of SW as an electronic writing system usable with any
signed language is probably the most scientifically directed and aided
such enterprise that has ever existed in the history of the world?! I
continue to be amazed at how you have been able to adapt what was
originally a handwritten system, not in its origins intended for
recording a language at all, into a sophisticated and very beautiful
script which, I am sure, is going to revolutionize the status of signed
languages forever! I know this is a source of great satisfaction to you.
All the discussions about the technical aspects of this development are
way beyond me; but when I see the wonderful websites with all their
documents, I cannot help think about the very first tentative use of the
web for SW that was going on just ten years ago when I first encountered
SW. What an achievement!

I am also very glad to see that a significant number of linguists are
involved in the study of SW and its effects on Deaf education; as you
and I discussed way back, this is very important if for no other reason
than to bolster the status of ASL and all other signed languages as
legitimate human languages on a par with any other languages. It is
interesting that younger linguists are choosing to work with SW in their
research; this ensures that research into signed languages via SW will
continue: after all, they will be professors and will have their own
graduate students ,and so on. Though I have not had the chance to look
at all the documents in the linguistics section of the website, I have
read Ch. 3 of Cecelia Flood's dissertation and am eagerly awaiting the
opportunity to see all of it, esp. if it becomes a "hard-book".

Now I am ready for a SW grammar/learning book for people like me! I have
made tentative arrangements to take lessons from a skilled young ASL
instructor who recently moved back home to Lafayette County; she has
been busy this summer having a baby, and I decided to teach French, so
we have not yet had any sessions together, but we have exchanged a lot
of material: she gave me a xeroxed course-pack of articles from a
linguistics-based ASL structure course she took, maybe at Florida State
Univ., and I in turn gave her all the SW materials that I got from you
so long ago. I hope that I will be able to begin to learn ASL and she is
already fascinated by SW! So even here, we are making progress.

Just surfacing from time to time to congratulate and encourage you in
your very very important work.

(Rebecca Larche Moreton)
301 S. Ninth St.
Oxford, MS 38655

<mlrlm at>
Tel. 662-234-4404

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