common criticisms of signwriting?

Gerard Meijssen gerard.meijssen at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 15 08:57:55 UTC 2009

I am confused.. ASCII is a subset of the Latin script. Cyrillic and Arabic
are also not fonts but scripts. I fail to understand how you can use sound
based characters for signs. Then again, I am not doing any modern research
.... The only advantage I see is indeed that current hardware supports these
scripts. If you want to make use of modern hardware, an alternate approach
would be to get SignWriting graohemes included in the Unicode system.

2009/11/15 Sandy Fleming <sandy at>

> On Fri, 2009-11-06 at 11:55 +0000, Trevor Jenkins wrote:
> > Interesting topic. One criticism that I've heard about SignWriting
> > (from sign language interpreters) is that it is too ideograhic! They
> > prefer either Stokoe or HamNoSys notations! Yet if you show a Deaf
> > people something transcribed in Stokoe or HamNoSys and the reaction is
> > utter confusion. This is exacerbated beacuse the BSL fingerspelling
> > alphabet (I'm in the UK) is two-handed and completely different from
> > the one-handed ASL alphabet that is used to label handshapes in
> > Stokoe.
> Of course, if you showed some written English to a hearing person who
> had never seen written language before, the reaction would also be
> confusion, so that's not necessary an argument against less schematic
> writing systems.
> I feel that Stokoe, HamNoSys and SignWriting all run into the same
> problem: they're all falling behind with respect to the advances that
> have been made in sign language linguistics since they were invented.
> I think that any current sign language writing system will need to be
> revamped in the light of these findings.
> In linguistics, for example, signs tend to be described in terms of a
> few bases (head, trunk, opposite hand and suchlike), and it's
> acknowledged that non-compound signs are signed on only one of these.
> Moreover, the "settings" or positions at which a sign is made on a base
> is simply high, low, left, right, far and near, so positioning could
> easily be incorporated into a simple linear writing system.
> Similarly, orientation is more simply described in modern linguistics
> than it generally is in available writing systems, and handshapes can be
> described in terms of a few components so that a huge character set for
> describing all the handshapes isn't really required.
> I think that a relatively simple, linear system that could be written
> with a fairly small alphabet of ASCII characters (or any preferred font:
> say, Arabic, Cyrillic or a specially designed one) without diacritics is
> well within our grasp in the light of modern research.
> Although this would look like a normal alphabet-based writing system on
> the page and would have to be learned properly, the characters chosen
> could nevertheless be graphically motivated to aid the learning process.
> And of course the advantage of not needing to write special software for
> anything would be immense. If two people learned it they could
> immediately start communicating in sign language by SMS, email or
> anything else without having to set any software up.
> Classifier constructions in sign languages would be the real test of
> such a writing system, but my feeling is that if someone could write
> plain signs well in such a system, they'd be able to write classifier
> constructions with the same sort of creative thinking that goes into
> executing such constructions in the living language.
> Sandy Fleming
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