common criticisms of signwriting?

Sandy Fleming sandy at FLEIMIN.DEMON.CO.UK
Sat Nov 21 12:09:34 UTC 2009


If you'd allow me to talk about each of these in turn...

> There are rational criticisms of SignWriting.  Here are the top three as 
> I see it.
> 1) Too much noise for too little signal.   Some say that SignWriting 
> includes extraneous details that are not needed.  The extra details 
> inflates the visual size of the script and interferes with reading and 
> writing.  Some say that SignWriting does not record the meaningful 
> streams of sign language directly, but that the meaningful parts are 
> absent and must be inferred from the writing.

This is exactly the sort of thing I'm trying to address by first
devising a linear script and seeing how it compares with SignWriting.

I tried learning some Chinese script and what I learned from this that I
didn't realise before was that a "character" (as they call it in
Chinese) can be written very small with many detailed strokes and yet be
quite readable.

I asked myself if this was true of SignWriting and I think the answer is

Then I tried to think why that should be, and although there are a few
things that could be changed to help, the most obvious seems to be that
the contact symbols are tiny compared to most of the other SignWriting
symbols, so that they can actually be impossible to see if you reduce
the size of a sign to that of a typical printed Chinese character.

The obvious answer to this is to make the dynamics characters bigger
(and I think we probably should) but comparing this with what I have in
my linear script I see that SignWriting has quite a lot of contact
characters: hit, touch, brush, rub, grasp, through and surface.

I really think that only touch and rub are needed (and possibly
surface), and removing the other characters from the ISWA would help
with the size problem - there wouldn't be so many of the "tiny"
characters to distinguish.

This is only one example - to touch lightly on another one, there's the
problem of writing complicated facial expressions inside the rather
small head. Although a simple way to address this would be to make the
head bigger, there are other things that could be done. I say we should
be examining the writing system instead of just expecting programmers,
font designers and writers to sort it all out for us.

> 2) SignWriting is hard to write by hand and requires special software 
> for computers.

Again, removing unnecessary characters will help with this - as well as
other things.

> 3) SignWriting is too varied and has too much flexibility.  The number 
> of potential signs is infinite.  There are too many potential spellings 
> for the same sign. 

Again, could we take a proper look at the possibility of reducing the size
of the ISWA? Anything we could get rid of would be less to for readers and
writers to learn and would reduce the number of spelling possibilities.

There seem to me to be a number of ways to reduce the ISWA without
changing the appearance or readability of SignWriting. Reducing the ISWA
means less donkey work for everybody and more (because much easier to
create) SignWriting software and fonts.

> Most other criticisms are based on ignorance.

I agree that those three are the ones to address. But we should be
addressing them, not ignoring them.



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