hand shapes and "new" or "old" spellingrules
signwriting at MAC.COM
Wed Dec 3 01:01:09 UTC 2008
December 2, 2008
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
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
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
> 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
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
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!
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