common criticisms of signwriting?

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Nov 15 13:50:29 UTC 2009

And yet, if you show a random Deaf person SignWriting they can start reading in a matter of an hour at most.  You cannot do that with any of the alphabetic tools.

I fail to see a "linguistic study" argument that holds water in the face of the actual lives of the Deaf.  Using a "scientific rationalism" to protect linguistics studies based on a alphabetic model when graphic systems exist is, I honestly believe, simply protectionism.

Saying that "alphabetic systems" are preferred when looking at Chinese (which is non-alphabetic) and is used by more people than any other writing system in the world to write 22 mutually unintelligible spoken dialects simply doesn't fit reality.

From: Gerard Meijssen <gerard.meijssen at>
To: sandy at; SignWriting List <sw-l at>
Sent: Sun, November 15, 2009 3:57:55 AM
Subject: Re: [sw-l] common criticisms of signwriting?

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
>>SW-L SignWriting List
>>Post Message
>SW-L at
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