Promotion on another Sign Notation System

Stuart Thiessen smt_sw at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Aug 25 13:38:35 UTC 2003

I would disagree with one part of this regarding SignFont. I found it to be
too underspecified for ASL, which ironically is the language it was designed
for. The advantage of SignWriting that I have appreciated is the fact that
the degree of detail is up to me as the writer. Naturally, over time,
specific deaf communities who adopt the writing system will decide what
details are normally written and what are not. At the same time, if it is
necessary to record a section of mime or drama that occurs naturally in
signing, the symbols are available to me to write it. That is very helpful.
The full listing of facial expressions, body movements, etc. are the key
distinction between the linear sign notation systems (Stokoe, HamNoSys, or
SignFont) and SignWriting.

One hearing friend did try out SignFont for a while, but found it too
removed from the signs themselves to be helpful. Further, the fact that palm
orientation is not specified in SignFont was another disadvantage (e.g., you
cannot make a distinction between "date" and "dessert" in ASL using

Probably research-wise, I would say the one disadvantage people have
mentioned with SignWriting so far is that palm orientation and handshape are
merged and that could make it interesting when you want to study specific
palm orientations. There may be other research issues, but that is the only
one that people have specifically noted thus far.  (I also haven't had the
opportunity to use SignWriting much in a research context, so I can't say
much more than that.) Probably another is the fact that it is so spatially
oriented makes it difficult for computer processing. That is an advantage of
the linear sign notation systems.

Still, for me, I find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, so I
haven't really paid much attention to the linear sign notation systems for
personal use.



> -----Original Message-----
> From: SignWriting List [mailto:SW-L at ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA] On 
> Behalf Of Angus B. Grieve-Smith
> Sent: Monday, August 25, 2003 08:03
> Subject: Re: Promotion on another Sign Notation System
> On Mon, 25 Aug 2003, Ingvild Roald wrote:
> > What all these have in common, and where they all differ from
> > SignWriting, is that they are developed for research 
> purposes (often for
> > one spesific SL or one spesific aspect), and not well suited to be
> > everyday writing systems for Signing people.
>         This is true of HamNoSys and possibly Stokoe, but not of the
> Newkirk systems (87, 93 and SignFont).  All three were 
> designed to be used
> as orthographies.  There are a number of other factors 
> involved, one of
> which is that Valerie has been consistenly promoting SignWriting for
> years, but when was the last time you heard from Don Newkirk?
>                                         -Angus B. Grieve-Smith
>                                         Linguistics Department
>                                         University of New Mexico
>                                         grvsmth at
>                                         grvsmth at

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