hand shapes and "new" or "old" spellingrules

Valerie Sutton signwriting at MAC.COM
Wed Dec 3 01:01:09 UTC 2008

SignWriting List
December 2, 2008

Hello Stefan!
Thanks for this message ;-))

On Dec 2, 2008, at 3:00 PM, Stefan Wöhrmann wrote:
> I am following this discussion about the “rules”   with mixed  
> feelings.

No worries! Just write SignWriting as you always have done...you write  

I think I should stop using the word "rule". It makes people feel bad.  
I will just say "this is the way I write"...and then call them  
"guidelines"...what do you think? that might help!

I do not want you to feel uncomfortable about anything...we can write  
as we wish and be happy together...we are lucky to know each other and  
everyday we need to choose happiness, and I am happy we can work  
together here on the internet and discuss these things...

And your beautiful books and documents in SignWriting just thrill my  
heart...your work is magical!

I have had a crazy day...besides the internet not working well, my  
family has had their own problems, and other equipment in the house  
decided to break...kind of funny, isn't it? lots of things all going  
wrong at the same time! But we keep smiling ;-)))))

> What would happen in the classroom – smile – just imagine a group of  
> people who started to learn your Sutton SignWriting notation back in  
> the 70th  as well as people who started 10 years ago or some who  
> started 5 years ago and some who started 1 year ago ...

Yes...there are quite a number of people here on this List who wrote  
SignWriting as early as 1980s...Ingvild and Charles and Nancy...etc...

Nancy Romero, who is not on the List, but who is writing the Gospel  
According to John in ASL in SignWriting...Nancy and I met each other  
in 1975...

And each writer has their own style of writing and that in turn has  
influence on other's writing...

So you have had a lot of influence on SignWriting too...quite a bit  
actually...Your textbook is used around the world and I proudly show  
it off to everyone I meet! I am very very happy and honored that you  
wrote your book, Stefan...THANK YOU ;-)

Stefan Woehrmann's Textbook: SignWriting Handbook

> I understand that all of us have an incredible different personal  
> biography – some of this group remember the time without any  
> software – so they started to write by hand and what they wrote  
> showed the receptive perspective.

Yes...that was all the people who used SignWriting before 1986...

> Some of us remember the times when Richard Gleaves created in  
> collaboration with Valerie this  wonderfull DOS – based SignWriter –  
> program  ( For several weeks we discussed printing – problems –  
> smile, and so many how to – questions) –- Oversudden we felt trapped  
> because Microsoft Windows changed from Win 98 to Windows XP and no  
> DOS-Programm seemed to be functioning any longer. .We got the new  
> SignWriter Python program thanks to Lars  ... And then another aera  
> started with the inginious SignPuddle and SignText software of  
> Steve ..and I bet there is much more to mention as you know  
> ( SignBank, IMWA, E-lessons, ....

Yes...and you are one of the most skilled people with SignWriter DOS.  
THANK YOU for all you have written with SignWriter DOS...I am actually  
using SignWriter DOS now a little, and I need to ask you some  
questions as to how to use DOSBox...I will ask that next message...I  
cannot get DOSBox to work and I know you know how!

> I had not been part of the group when you gave your OK to change the  
> perspective and to write from now on from the expressive point of  
> view. I am interested – do you know of any discussion – I mean did  
> you answer questions and doubts fom SignWriting-friends who felt  
> uncomfortable, who did not agree, who felt disturbed ... ? Did some  
> people show anger or did they express feelings of iritation??

Yes of course! It took around two years. The Deaf people who worked  
with me at the time, Lucinda O'Grady Batch, and several others,  
including Meriam Ina Schroeder...they had worked daily with writing  
newspaper articles in American Sign Language in the Receptive and  
Horizontal method for four years, and they asked to have a meeting, so  
around 8 or us got together in my home in Newport Beach in  
1984...there were two hearing people, me being one, and our Managing  
Editor of the SignWriter Newspaper, Susan Diamond Bucher, who was born  
into a Deaf family and is a native hearing signer...we all sat down  
and discussed what Lucinda and Meriam and the other Deaf members  
wanted to speak with us about...They requested that we write  
Expressive and "Down the page"...you can see a summary of what we  
discussed on the "Deaf Perspectives on SignWriting Video Series" where  
they express how they were first against SignWriting, but then it got  
better and now they accept it etc...and in the second video of the  
Deaf Perspective series Lucinda explains how she "requested" writing  
expressive and vertically...so her request and discussion of our  
"experimenting" with improving the writing system is on those  
videos...it took decades and was a big job for all of us to change and  
get it documented...

So yes...both hearing people in that meeting in 1984...me and  
Susan...at first we argued against the idea of Expressive and Vertical  
Writing, but over time Lucinda and Meriam convinced me that it was  
more intuitive for the Deaf, and at that time, no one had personal  
computers...or very few people, and there was no such thing as the  
internet (in my life anyway) so I had to write personal letters to all  
the SignWriting users around the world whom I knew personally...I  
wrote to the Danes and explained it and to my surprise they loved the  
idea of the Expressive...that was what they wanted too...but it was a  
hard time...I would tremble with fear as I wrote the letters for fear  
of the arguments I would get...and the Danes changed the writing  
system too, and that was hard.

So these changes are not taken lightly...I want everyone to feel that  
they can disagree and enjoy the conversations and we can learn from  
each other that way... so if people disagree they are most welcome to  
tell me and everyone...and now that we have the internet it is so much  
easier to discuss these things...

And you and everyone are obviously free to write SignWriting as you  
wish...it is a free world...

Freedom to discuss this is wonderful, don't you think?

And this is a very small thing...the issue of the direction of the  
fingers is very minor because we can read each other's writing...thank  

> Obviously this decision does not cause any problems  today.  
> Everybody seems to agree with that.

I don't know! We will see over time how people feel...No everyone is  
using SignPuddle...so if they use SignWriter DOS then they probably  
write from left to right still...and that is fine...

> Just curious – perhaps some years later all scribes agree to write  
> SW in columns  and smile at dinosaurs who kept on writing from left  
> to right??

You are welcome to write from left to right...I love SignWriter DOS.  
The other day I started using it on an old PC and got a big kick out  
of it...it was a good program that Rich and I designed and I am proud  
of our work...

But on the other hand, writing down in vertical columns gives us  
grammar information necessary to signed languages, and I believe that  
Lucinda and Meriam Ina were right...they had a native-signer's  
perspective that I could never have...I had to swallow my feelings and  
agree, and over time I learned to agree 100 per cent...

So if people still write from left to right we can read what they  
write...and no one is standing in judgement of them...afterall...I  
started writing from left to right in 1974 didn't I? So I understand  
it too! That was my original invention ;-)

> But there are other aspects that ask for acceptance or need to be  
> clarified ... And – I do not know why – but it seems as if this kind  
> of discussion makes us somehow sensitive and vulnarable.

I am sorry. I do not mean to make you feel that way...I am happy to  
work with you and to hear your opinions...You are very important to  
SignWriting, Stefan...

> I guess that all notation – systems that are widely spread and that  
> are used by many readers and writers have to face a process of  
> change – and nothing is bad about that.

Yes...if they are really used by thousands of people...that is  
correct...and I am the one who has to work with those changes, and  
change the symbols, and the software, and the textbooks etc to match  
the way people are writing...so it is a lot of work for me and  
you...for everyone...when changes occur...

> Same with SignWriting?  Well – some spelling-violations in full  
> knowledge of the “official rule” may become an issue in such a  
> discussion.  In the past two years again and again some people  
> suggested to change this or that or to establish another  rule ...

Sure...well...perhaps you can give us insight as to what rules you  
feel are not right for you?...I am not asking you to change your  
writing...you can just observe and be aware of the "other way of  
writing" and we will still all read each other's writing...

> Hi Valerie – you know about my learning – biographie – and yes years  
> ago I liked this concept as taught in the wonderfull “Signo  
> Escritura”  book a lot. And since that time we happen to discuss  
> this same problem again and again. And you keep trying to explain    
> this “Center rule” but looking at my hands and fingers – specially  
> if you follow a given sequence ( index – hand, V- Hand, three- hand,  
> three-claw – hand) my brain refuses to accept a spelling that forces  
> my right thumb to appear on the left side of the square – mh –

That is a misunderstanding of the handshapes...I did not mean for you  
to feel forced by anything...

No one is forcing your thumb anywhere...You can place the fingers on  
one side or the other, just as long as the fingers are going in the  
correct direction of the sign...the way the sign feels...like the  
fingers directed toward the face...need to be directed toward the  
center of the face...and nine times out of ten, the hands are directed  
toward the center of the body, whether there is a rule or not...it is  
just more intuitive...

So let us not think of it as a rule...let's call it an "understood  
writing habit" since the 1980's, nine times out of ten, the fingers go  
on the left side because that is towards the center of the body for  
the right hand in the expressive...but there are exceptions, as  
Charles pointed out...there are a few signs where the fingers twist to  
the outside of the body...although it is rare...

But if you place the fingers on the right side in those kinds of  
handshapes that is ok too...

Back in the original Lessons In SignWriting textbook...I never  
mentioned any rules regarding this...I just placed all the handshapes  
in a row pointing towards the center of the body...but I did not  
explain why they were all pointing towards the center of the  
body...for me it just seemed natural and I didn't think about it...

I assumed that people would place the fingers intuitively in the  
direction needed...so I had left it flexible and open to usage...and  
didn't want to state a rule because I knew it varied depending on the  

I feel honored that the Parkhursts wrote such an excellent textbook  
too, and several of their changes to the system have been  
implemented...for example, because of the Parkhurst book, the circles  
are no longer dotted lines, and we write Finger Trills like they write  
them in Spain, so the Spanish book has had influence on the writing  
system in a positive way:

Parkhursts SignWriting Books are on the web:

and yours too:

Stefan Woehrmann's Textbook: SignWriting Handbook

The only difference is the palm facing rule with the thumbs...Just  
like you, I don't want to be "boxed in" by that rule...so neither of  
us have to follow each other's rules on the palm facing...let's just  
write the way that feels the best to us, and we can all understand  
each other because the white palm gives us the information we need...

I will try to make that clear in my new chapter on Palm Facing, that  
either rule works and is a choice...

> I understand that this visualisation is part of a misconception that  
> I do not keep in mind 10-palmfacing – options and that I vote for a  
> different option – compared to you.

Yes...and that is ok!

> Well – of course you would be able to read and understand my writing  
> of a table-tennis ball in the right three fingers claw-hand – smile  
> – But nevertheless it would look somehow “wrong” to you.

No. It doesn't look wrong...it just looks a little uncomfortable...a  
little twisted...and we have to memorize that even though the fingers  
are directed out, they are really directed into the center...so it is  
not visually connected to what is happening, like the sign for  
EAT...how can you write the right hand on the right side of the head,  
and still see the fingers directed to the center of the face, if you  
follow the thumb rule...?

> Same is true vice-versa. Looking at some of the handshapes that are  
> “forced” to follow the “Center –rule” – I  simply feel  
> uncomfortable .. . Obviously some other people like or accept this  
> presentation .. Years ago you encouraged us to write what we see. We  
> took fotos and draw in thick lines handshapes and fingers – smile -

Yes...and I wrote on top of a photo where the hand was directed toward  
the center of the back of the head...making it very visually connected  
with the way it looks in real life, but that does not follow the thumb  
rule, so "writing what you see" is a good rule, but then the thumb  
rule would not always apply...in other words...we need 10 palm  
facings...so choose the ones that work best for you...and whatever  
either of our rules are, neither rule is perfect...

> This procedure would not work for the “few critical”  “center rule”  
> hand shapes. So from this perspective we would have to ignore or  
> even violate the other rule “write what you see”

In both cases...the thumb rule too...has many flaws..it looks twisted  
and confusing...it is not flexible enough for me...when I want to  
direct the fingers to the center of the face, I want to see those  
fingers directed towards the center of the face...not twisted to the  

But that is my style of writing and you are welcome to write as you  

> Another option would be to say
> ... if we had been consistent with the “thumbs rule “  long ago, I  
> suspect that the discussion about how to symbolize bent fingers  
> would not have been necessary...but of course we can discuss  
> everything and it is all ok ;-)

Ha! That is funny...

 From my perspective...

The Center rule was the standard from the beginning of the writing  
system and was "an understood element of the writing system" from 1974  
to today...

The Thumb Rule was first developed around year 2000 in Spain by the  
Parkhursts, and then published in the SignoEscritura Textbook in  
2001...so for us, the Thumb Rule is the new rule...and it would have  
been wonderful for me, if I had known about the Thumb rule before the  
whole book was written and about to go to press...I was informed about  
it quickly right before the book was printed, and I was surprised  
about it, and never would have thought of such a rule at all  
myself..... So I never realized what it really meant until you read  
about it, Stefan, and started asking questions about it on the  
List...the Parkhursts never mentioned it to us on the list...and then  
I realized that the Parkhursts had chosen the outside versions of the  
10 palm facings where I had chosen the inside versions...as you know  
in the 10 palm facings, there is both an outside version of the  
fingers and an inside version of the fingers...

Anyway...I hope we can agree to accept each other's writing and not to  
worry -

I am very honored and happy that anyone uses SignWriting - I realize  
all the time and effort you have dedicated to it and i am grateful -  
and grateful to the Parkhursts too ;-))

Have a great day everyone!

Val ;-)

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