Research on if ASL should be written

Adam Frost seniorafrost at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 16 22:28:05 UTC 2003

Hello Val, Antonio Carlos da Rocha Costa, and others,
You are right! My research was on the general Deaf Community's feel on ASL
being written. I have a tendency to leave some of that informantion out of
my titles. The title that I used for the research when I turned it into my
teacher was "To Write Or Not To Write." I thought that was a good title. :-)
I still haven't gotten the paper back. I probably won't until Feb. but I
will send you what I have saved.

Happy Holidays

|    |
  ! !  /

Many people say that American Sign Language is not a language. One reason is
that it doesn ª²  have a written form. So I started making  o  or tried to make
- o  a written from for American Sign Language. Then after several years of
working to prefect my system, I came across a form that was more developed
than mine. I was thrilled! But, I came to find out that this form had been
in use by only a few people since 1982.
I began to wonder; if this written form for sign language had been around
for twenty years, why was it not in widespread use by now? I knew that the
Deaf would have the answer, so I decided to ask them.
I knew that not many would give a direct answer because SignWriting is not
widely known. So I decided to ask if ASL should have a way of writing. If
they felt it shouldn ª² , I wanted to know why. If they felt it should, I
wanted to know what they felt it should be.
In the questionnaire that I sent out, several answered the questions a
little different then I would have expected. It wasn ª²  the answers that were
different, but the method. The English wasn ª²  always perfect. Luckily, I
could decipher what was said because I know Deaf English. That is because I
use it sometimes.
The question where this showed the most was question four,  Ϭ ould whether or
not other Deaf use it affect whether or not you use it? m  This question was
also the hardest for me to figure out how to word. After thinking about what
I wanted it to ask, I thought that maybe I should have asked,  œ› f the Deaf
Culture disapproved of the written form, would you still use it? m  Even with
all of the confusion, I was able to explain it so that it could be answered.
I didn ª²  always just give a copy of the survey because I knew that it might
need explanation. I was always there if they had a question. This happened
the most with question four, as predicted. Some of the surveys were
conducted in sign language because English could not be easily understood.
One was even translated into Mexican Sign Language.
Of the 50 Deaf Adults from all parts of the USA and some in other countries,
the majority, of course, said sign language shouldn ª²  be written. Generally,
their answer for saying  œ| o m  was that it is impossible to make up a way to
write ASL that shows all of the facial expressions and body language that
are so vital. And even if one could, it would lose the beauty of the
Another answer was if there was a written form for ASL, hearing people
wouldn ª²  be able to understand Deaf people; it would make life more
complicated. Everyone uses English, so English is what must be learned. A
few had seen SignWriting, but don ª²  use it because it is  œ² oo complicated
and  œ? ot a true written form.
Û‹ owever, generally from the younger generation and those that don ª²  have a
strong foundation in English, the responses were opposite. Generally, these
fifteen people said that it would help the Deaf learn English better. This
is because English is analyzed on paper. If ASL can be analyzed on paper as
well, then the two languages can be compared, giving a stronger foundation
to English. It would also make it easier to convey ideas, since it is hard
to think of something and then have to translate it into English. Stronger
ASL grammar could be developed. Deaf people could learn ASL with a firmer
foundation, and by doing so, each Deaf person could answer people ª±
questions clearly about ASL being a true language. It would help in
translations into English.
The latter group answered the next four questions because it deals with how
ASL should be written. In question two, a list was giving of 8 things that
most likely are wanted in a written form for ASL. The majority said that ASL
should be (from most to least) useable with technology, easy to read and
write, can show expressions, have connections with English, and easy to
When asked if there was a written form that had all that they choose, all
but one said that they would use it. The one said that she wouldn ª²  because
she already can write well in English; however, she would use it to
communicate with those Deaf that didn ª²  know English well.
Then they were asked if the Deaf Culture disapproved of the written form,
would it affect their use. The answer was split. Some said that they would
use it regardless; others said that it must be accepted first.
In question five, they were asked what would they use it for. The answer was
unanimous: To improve in English. This is proved by A Journey into the
Deaf-World when it stated,  œf that the majority of Hispanic children who were
taught to read Spanish before learning to read English learned later to read
English quite well m  (Lane, 296). The same will happen with Deaf children
when they can read in ASL. The other general answer was to communicate with
other Deaf people, if  o  for whatever reason  o  they couldn ª²  see the other
Deaf person while communicating.
The last question was answered by all. Most of them had seen a written from.
The majority said that they had seen a written form called  œ loss. m  As
mentioned before a few had seen SignWriting, about 8. Almost all said that
they were not using it right now. And if they were using it, it was only for
small purposes when ASL word order was important  o  for example,
The general feel of the Deaf on whether or not ASL should be written is a
strong no. What is the reason? I think that it is because most Deaf people
think of something being written with an English-like form. This is how
gloss came to be. This has proved unsuccessful because not every ASL sign
can be transliterated into English. And by doing this glossing, English
words must be carefully picked and generally accepted. It is interesting
that glossing is exactly what it means  o  to make  ϧ n artfully misleading
interpretation m  (813).
Imagine how horrendous glossing would get. If there were over 100,000 signs,
you would have to pick over 100,000 words that would be accepted by everyone
and keep it up-dated. If you were trying to learn ASL, this would be a
hindering block. The gloss gives you no information on how the sign is
produced, or even what the sign truly means. If a Deaf person knows this
system and tries to learn English, they would struggle. One English word can
have as many as 5 different meanings. That would confuse the Deaf person.
According to linguists, this system of glossing would be called logographic
writing. Logographic writing is when you have abstract symbol(s), which
stands for the whole word or sign. Most languages that are written have some
of this in it; however, no language has ever been purely logographic due to
the problem stated before (282-284). That is why most Deaf people do not use
glossing even if they feel ASL should have a written from.
The other written from that had been seen is SignWriting. This is a system
of abstract symbols that show each parameter of sign language. This form of
writing is called by linguists alphabetic writing (282). This is the same
writing from of English. SignWriting is one of the few writing systems that
try to write ASL this way.
Many of the surveyors that had seen this form said that it is complicated.
This is because most alphabetic languages have only a few symbols from which
to choose from. At the most, there are 50 (295). SignWriting has 16,000.
While most of these symbols are because of rotations in a 3-D format, it is
still too many for most everyday people to remember. If the  ϧ lphabet m  of
SignWriting could be greatly reduced, I am sure it would be more greatly
accepted. I fear, however, it will take several years, probably another 20,
before this would happen.
Another reason as to why the Deaf strongly disagree with the use of a
written from for ASL is probably change. I did some corresponding with
Valerie Sutton, the inventor of SignWriting in 1974. I think she explained
why very well in this manner.
Social change is always greeted with fear by the very people who shall be
benefited, because they are the ones that have to make the change, and
change is frightening. The burden for change is on two groups, the educators
and the Deaf. And of those two groups, the Deaf have it the hardest because
it hits them at the root of their identity. The hearing educators can go
home and continue to live the same, but the Deaf people have to change their
 υ ery image m  of themselves e
The majority language rules, not because people want to hurt each other, but
because most people speak the majority language. It is only natural. That is
the language of commerce.
The minority group feels insecure. They are afraid they won't be accepted by
the majority. They are afraid that if they  œ> ake waves m  that is  œº f they
bring attention to their differences m  that the majority will not approve.
Technically the minority language is suppressed, in this case Sign Language,
without people even realizing it. The users of this minority language, in
this case Deaf people, have noticed that they do better if they learn the
majority language. It is not that they have directly been abused by the
majority. It is more subtle than that. And so the fear spreads amongst
themselves. Fear is catching e
Try to imagine living to adulthood with no written form for your own native
language. You speak your native language fluently, but because there is no
written form for it, reading and writing is not a part of your self-image.
And then imagine suddenly someone telling you that you  œ> ust read and
write. m  It would be so new you wouldn't know what to think! And when you sat
down to try to learn it, you would find that you didn ª²  realize you said
things that way. You had no idea your language did that, and that, and that.
And suddenly you feel overwhelmed. And others around you feel the same way.
So you gather in groups and say,  œ¨ e don ª²  want to learn this because it is
too hard. It brings confusion to our lives. Let's leave things as they
Û¥ hat is why teaching young children in school is the only way to make true
social change for the next generation. The present generation of Deaf adults
did not learn SignWriting as children, and it is hard to teach adults. I am
afraid this will go on for some time.
Given this thought from Valerie Sutton, it explains very well why most Deaf
people would reject the idea of ASL having a written form. She also said
that now more and more educated Deaf people are saying that there should be
a written from. As more and more agree, more will join. That was shown in
the results of the survey; several would accept a written form if it were
generally accepted.
Of all of the written forms of ASL, SignWriting is the best. It is not the
best that it can be. Even Valerie Sutton agrees with that. As times goes on,
more and more Deaf children will be taught SignWriting, and as SignWriting
improves, SignWriting will inevitably become the written form for ASL. This
will make education for the Deaf better. However, it will have much
restraint, so it will take time.

(Then I gave three samples of writing ASL useing my first paragraph.)


SignWriting (I had to put this into Word, I hope that you can see it. I hope
I "spelled" everything right too. I am still rusty on SignWriting.)

My Invention (This is handwritten because I can't make a computer program
that does it. I don't know how to show you what this looks like. Maybe I can
mail it to you, Val. To give you an idea of what it looks like, it is very
similar to SignWriting, but not as persised.)

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