common criticisms of signwriting?

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Nov 8 14:05:18 UTC 2009

I honestly think that your comment about the invention as opposed to the use has been the case.  When I talk about SSW in the U.S., if they ask "was this created by the Deaf or the Hearing", I say "neither--it was created by a dancer".  That moves it to being created by a human who uses their body for communication.

In Brazil, the strongest advocates have been the Deaf, and then professors in larger universities getting behind the system, but the tireless work of a deaf woman -- Marianne Stumpf -- all over Brazil starting in an elementary school in Porto Alegre, and now a professor at the University of Santa Catarina at Florianopolis must be included.  She, Ronice Quadros, who brought TISLR to Brazil in 2005, Fernando Capovilla at the University of Sao Paulo, and Professor Rocha Costa at the Catholic Universities of Pelotas and the Catholic University of Porto Alegre are astonishing.  I was privileged to a part of the SignNet project in Porto Alegre and in Pelotas in 2001 and to work at the TISLR in 2005.  I hope to rejoin the overall work as a tutor in some capacity next Fall.   I don't know where I'll end up.

Charles Butler Neto

From: Natasha Escalada-Westland <shash90 at>
To: SignWriting Listserve <sw-l at>
Sent: Sun, November 8, 2009 6:54:25 AM
Subject: RE: [sw-l] common criticisms of signwriting?

 I wonder, what tipped the scales and convinced the Deaf in Brazil that SSW was an important and useful writing system?  I'd like to know the history of that situation more deeply and how perhaps it could influence the progress of SignWriting here in the U.S.
I'm convinced that SignWriting, as I use it to teach ASL classes to hearing people has been truly beneficial, especially in pronunciation of signs and as a recall aid, but I am also very interested in its benifits to Deaf students as I'm a teacher of the Deaf as well.  It looks like there is some pretty hefty research backing SSW and its use with Deaf students in Brazil.
There seems to be a basic underlying paranoia of a system invented by a hearing person, at least in the U.S.  This type of polar opposition, based on the origin of the system, as opposed to its merits, may be particularly strong here in America.  

Natasha Escalada-Westland, M.Ed. (D/HH), Certified Interpreter - NIC


 Date: Sat, 7 Nov 2009 15:12:48 -0800
From: chazzer3332000 at
Subject: Re: [sw-l] common criticisms of signwriting?
To: sw-l at

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Brazil, where the tireless efforts of Marianne Stumpf, Ronice Quadros, and many others has created a ready pool of SignWriting being used at all levels of education.  Brazilian Sign Language is considered to be a native language (as of 2002) and native Deaf are required to be the primary teachers of interpreters.  SW was adopted by the Deaf Community at its national conference in 2000 and has taken off all over the place since.  The social validation of Deaf clubs has really made a difference.

When I taught a seminar on SignWriting at Deaf Way II, the criticism that was often heard was that the conference was overwhelmingly ASL-centric and I was one of the few presenters that "assumed" that not only did more than one sign language exist, but that they all deserved to be treated as "native languages" with their own writing systems. 

Neither HamNoSys or SignType are used as everyday tools by the Deaf in their own cultures, they are linguistic tools only.  Only SW has actually been welcomed, once the Deaf have learned it, to become an everyday writing system, based on the usage of the Deaf as primary users.

Charles Butler

 From: KJ <kjoanne403 at>
To: SignWriting List <sw-l at>
Sent: Sat, November 7, 2009 1:10:29 AM
Subject: Re: [sw-l] common criticisms of signwriting?

I've run into most of the criticisms mentioned; one other that I've heard (and I realize it's completely wrong, but it is the opinion of one of the top people in Deaf education in Alberta) is that trying to learn SignWriting as well as the majority spoken language is "cognitive overload".
Another "issue" brought up by a teacher I spoke to is that a lot of the hearing-impaired kids she teaches have no language when they start school; their hearing parents don't (and often won't) sign.  Since they're not starting with a signed language knowledge base, and because the hearing parents generally don't want their kids involved with the Deaf community and have no desire to sign with them, this teacher really doesn't see any point in using SSW in her classroom.
----- Original Message ----- 
>From: Erika Hoffmann 
>To: sw-l at 
>Sent: Thursday, November 05, 2009 1:40 PM
>Subject: [sw-l] common criticisms of signwriting?
>Hi! I mentioned the last time I posted that I'm working on a paper
>about SignWriting for presentation at the American Anthropological
>Association meeting in December.
>One of the things I'm thinking about is the ways in which Signwriting
>and Signwriten documents can be used to critique dominant ideologies
>about language and writing that are common in Linguistics and related
>disciplines. At the same time, I want to note that the radical nature
>of the script can sometimes be a social barrier to its adoption by
>signers (particularly because of the historical relationship between
>the Linguistic validation of sign languages with the social validation
>of Deaf signers).
>I'm wondering if any of you would be willing to share some of the ways
>you've heard people criticize or dismiss SSW (or point me to places
>where these opinions are aired). I'm looking for people's concerns
>about the script itself (i.e., "it looks like hieroglyphics") rather
>than the other common arguments about the need for a script at all
>(i.e., "Deaf people can just write in English").
>SW-L SignWriting List
>Post Message
>SW-L at
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