BRAZIL Sergio requests help from SW List members! - MY RESPONSES

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Apr 8 13:07:15 UTC 2007

Sergio Ribeiro
Centro Educacional Cultura Surda
sergio.ribeiro at

1 – What you think about possible to write down signs, independent of 
any system to write this like SignWriting, Stokoe Notation, HanonSys, 
ELiS, etc, write sign is a old and controversial topic and What you 
opinion ?
  Most civilizations that have endured through commerce have had writing systems, including Native American tribes.  The obligation for a culture to leave its records to those yet unborn beyond the memory of its direct descendants has enabled historians to see more then 3,000 years into the past in China, Egypt, Persia, and India, and because of that, their descendants can still read their ancestors' hopes and dreams even after 100 generations.  
  My opinion is that Deaf cultures deserve no less.  Electronics may die, printed records endure.  A videotape or CD may become corrupted, but word-of-hand, and libraries can survive the test of time.  
2 –When you started work with SignWriting ?
  In 1978 I ran across the Sign Writing system in a newspaper in the DC Public Library.
3 – When you introduced SignWriting in your job What was your 
expectation ? Can you to take effect ?
   My hope, with my students at the time, was to have an ongoing community of local signers able to use the system.  It has been very slow going, but with unexpected rewards.  The most unusual place is with a recreational group, the Society for Creative Anachronism, which has started research into pre-16th century sign language in Europe.  With the work of El Mudo and his influence on Spanish schools, Monastery sign language dating back to the year 1000 in the Benedictine order, the use of a uniform writing system for scholars is very useful.  I have been introducing SignWriting in my work there for more than 15 years. 
  I use the system now all the time in preparing dictionaries and taking notes about sign language. 
4 – What do you think about SignWriting today and in the future ?
  With the incredible growth of the SignWriting site and SignPuddle we are getting communication as never before. 
5 – Is SignWriting important to bilingual approach [in education]?
  Sign Writing helps in ways that take me back to a discussion in Brazil of bilingual modes of education, that at that time, proposed that Sign Language was missing a written component to compare to a target language.  With more than 100 Brazilian Deaf users of SignWriting in the audience of 500, the lecturer proposed that there was no written sign language, and that the mode of a written sign language would not be able to be paralleled to the written form of the spoken word in bilingual education.  
  By contrast, at the FENEIS conference in Porto Alegre I gave several presentations on SignWriting and because of Marianne Stumpf's outstanding work, FENEIS officially approved SignWriting as the preferred form of sign language transcription for use in the public schools.  
  I know of the work of groups in New Mexico and other places where Deaf children have shown rapid understanding of spoken speech and written spoken language grammar when their own language is respected. Though this is anectodal, and case-by-case, the documentation is rapidly coming forward that use in bilingual education will have a very positive effect. 
6 – How many deaf have you taught SignWriting ?
  I have taught about 20 Deaf adults in the U.S. and helped with classes and presentations for more than 100 Deaf in Brazil.  
7 – What are difficulties to learning SignWriting ?

a) Breaking through the prejudice.  Because their language has not been written, there has been a cultural prejudice against writing sign language down by the Deaf. Some objections have happened because as long as the language is not written down it remains the property of the Deaf and not a language which both the hearing and the Deaf can share.  The possibility of a peer-to-peer equality in languages, I think, will change minds, but it will take time.  
  b) Perceptions by hearing teachers that Sign Writing will be difficult for the Deaf to learn.  My experience with the Deaf has been just the opposite.  Once the basic principles have been explained, accurate reading of SignWriting by the Deaf is rapid.  Writing the language takes about 6 weeks for adults, and then it is practice, practice, practice, just like any other language.  For children, it may be longer, about the same 2 years that writing a spoken language takes, but the Deaf have the advantage here as their hands are always with them, so they can "bring their homework with them" as it were.
  c) Academic linguistic lack of exposure.  In attending both Deaf Way II in the United States and TISLR-9 in Brazil, I was amazed that I was the only person giving presentations of any kind in Sign Writing.  At Deaf Way II I was one of only a handful of presenters in sign languages other than American Sign Language, and SignWriting was invaluable for that presentation.  At TISLR-9 the fact that even poster presentations never used SignWriting was rather astonishing, as many of the linguistic presentations would have been greatly enhanced by side-by-side comparison of the languages in a universally recognized format. 
  Hope these responses help.

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