SIgnwriting and L2 literacy

Wayne Smith wayne at MRLANGUAGE.COM
Tue Dec 16 01:31:37 UTC 2003

Nancy -
     I had a Deaf housemate while living in Taiwan who loved to read (in
Chinese).  Once while he was reading away, I noticed his head bobbing ever
so slightly while he was taking in what he was reading.  I asked him what
that meant.  His response was revealing.  He said that as he read, he was
perceiving what he was reading in TSL (Taiwan Sign Language), as if the
"little voice" that I hear when I'm reading were a little signer in his
mind.  His head movement mimicked what his head would normally do while
processing another person's signing.  This person had NO speech ability at
all, so it is definite that he was not processing the characters auditorily.
His writing in Chinese was generally extremely good, but occasionally
displayed the character reversals common in the written Chinese of many Deaf
people in Taiwan (e.g. the two characters for "meeting" [normally hui-yi]
being written in reverse order [i.e. yi-hui]).  For what it's worth......
      - Wayne Smith

> But if the children are using SignWriting to understand the concept of
> writing, and the meaning of the spoken-language words and sentences,
> without any additional speaking/speechreading component, I wouldn't think
> it would make a difference how closely the spelling of the spoken language
> mirrored its pronunciation - that part of the loop wouldn't matter,
> they'd just be associating the look of the string of letters to the
> meaning and use.
> As a hearing person, I "hear" what I read inside my head - but if I'm
> trying to read Chinese, which is not alphabet based, sometimes I recognize
> the shape of a character enough to know its meaning but don't remember how
> it's pronounced at all, just like there are some things I know how to say
> in Chinese but not how to write.  (Most things in Chinese I can neither
> say nor write, mind you.)  (But maybe I'm "hearing" my English translation
> in my head?)  Anyhow, I think the meaning/writing connection can be made
> without sound, so the accuracy of the spelling system for representing
> sound may not matter.
> Interesting question!
> Nancy Emery

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