common criticisms of signwriting?

Sandy Fleming sandy at FLEIMIN.DEMON.CO.UK
Sun Nov 15 10:44:48 UTC 2009

On Sun, 2009-11-15 at 10:51 +0100, Gerard Meijssen wrote:
> Hoi,
> Theoretically I agree, symbols can be divorced from their accepted
> meaning.. However, it would create utter confusion by people who are
> used for the characters in a script to have a relation that is well
> defined to sounds. They will try to pronounce it... only to learn that
> they are not used in that way anymore.. It is the same with
> standardised transliteration from one script to another.. The sound
> implied is no longer there. This makes no difference if it is your
> sound values that are mapped.. and indeed it is a foreign language
> that is represented so it is ok, the sounds are however still mapped
> to one sounding system.

I agree with that, and I wouldn't want to advocate any particular way of
writing at too early a stage. Do we want to use the findings of modern
linguistics to simplify SignWriting (especially if we can reduce the
size of the ISWA dramatically) or devise something completely different?

I don't know what's best, but I do think that one or the other will
happen as people become more aware of findings in linguistics,
especially with respect to sign language universals.

Note that when I talk about "simplifying SignWriting" I don't mean using
shorthand. I mean simplifying it in such a way that information
significant to sign language execution isn't lost.

> One immediate problem is that SignWriting illustrates well how
> complicated it is .. I wonder if there are enough characters in the
> alphabetic scripts to represent sign languages and, if it can be done
> in a universal way. It is however not the kind of research I find
> appealing as my gut feeling says that it will not work.

I don't think SignWriting does illustrate the complexity of the problem,
because SignWriting is more complex than it needs to be.

To lay my cards on the table, I've been devising and working with an
ASCII-based system and a similar specially-designed font (hence my long
absence!) and I don't find any pressing need for more than about 50
characters. This system is written linearly. I find I can write stuff in
BSL with the ASCII character set and a few months later I can still read

I'm now trying to decide whether it's best to stick with the linear
version of the script or whether it would be better to just try to
reduce the ISWA and stick with SignWriting.

I don't know if anybody remembers that I did submit a text in "linear
SignWriting" to the list a long time ago, but it wasn't well
received  :)

Sandy Fleming


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