SignWriting List

Stuart Thiessen smt_sw at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue May 28 23:30:11 UTC 2002

See comments below ...

My occupation is deaf pastor/amateur linguist <grin>.

Stuart Thiessen
Des Moines, IA
----- Original Message -----
From: "Hillary G Hittner" <hitt0012 at UMN.EDU>
Sent: Monday, 27 May 2002 09:19
Subject: SignWriting List

> If you give your answers to the below questions please leave your
> occupational title next to your name.
> How would you define SignWriting?

SignWriting is a feature-based writing system which allows individuals to
write any sign language on a phonetic or phonemic level.  By allowing the
writer to choose the features that best represent the signs/movements he/she
is making, the writing system allows for a large degree of flexibility in
writing sign language.  It is not a separate language, nor is it some kind
of ideographic writing system.  It is roughly the equivalent of a Roman
alphabet or the International Phonetic Alphabet (depending on how you use

> Why do we need SignWriting?

Is there a better way to enable ASL users to record important information in
their own language that is available to anyone with a pen and paper?  Just
like English speakers or Chinese speakers or even the ancient Egyptians have
used a writing system for their language to record their culture and values
as well as insignificant details like bills and love notes, so also that
benefit should be available for users of sign languages around the world.
The privilege of writing the heart language is not limited to hearing people
only, now deaf people have a chance to write in their heart language as

> Does it work better than Stoke Notation?

Absolutely.  Joe Martin's research paper on that topic (located on the
SignWriting Website) is an excellent discussion of this question.  But even
personally, I examined the Stokoe system.  In my view, its primary
deficiency is its lack of the "non-manual markers" (facial expressions, body
language, etc.).  Even beyond that, the system attempts to put sign
languages into the hearing linguistic mode.  I don't believe it fits.  This
is where SignWriting's unique use of space and shading allows for 3D
descriptions of signs, facial expressions, and all the other features of
sign language in a more intuitive fashion.  I believe it is more useful for
ordinary users.  Stokoe, HamNoSys, and other transcription systems may have
their place in computational linguistics or other deep linguistic research,
but I do not believe they will succeed as the ordinary writing system of
deaf people.  I even asked some deaf people in a recent workshop which they
preferred: Stokoe, HamNoSys, or SignWriting  (in terms of which seemed more
simple and intuitive to learn).  The vote was unanimously in favor of

> Shoudn't those learning SignWriting be exposed to it daily?

That is the ideal. In time, I believe that will happen as SignWriting
becomes more prevalent.  For now, the more it is used and the more people
who are exposed to SignWriting, the more it will grow.

That's my 2 cents worth.


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