Reading Assessment of SignWriting

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Wed Feb 19 21:43:51 UTC 2003

SignWriitng List
February 19, 2003

Tony wrote:
> just wondering has anyone carried out an assessment on how
> long it takes a signing adult to learn Sign Writing or in a statistical
> sort of way to have a complete novice try to identify sign writing 
> signs
> and see how many they get correct after no training, basic training,
> advanced training.  I just wanted to quote some facts with regards to
> learning sign writing.......Tony McCloskey

Thanks, Tony, Stefan, James.
As Stefan and others have already mentioned, SignWriting is very fast 
to read...Most Deaf people who already know how to sign, learn to read 
SignWriting within a very short time. Their hearing teachers usually 
are floored! And even hearing people who sign pick it up quickly 
too...So reading is is not a problem.

We have no statistical studies, but here is an important test the 
Parkhursts conducted with Deaf people in Spain:

Steve Parkhurst
Tue Oct 29, 2002

 >>One experiment that we conducted in class is worth passing on to you.
According to reading theory, when we read words in English (or whatever
language) we do not read each symbol but rather the shape of the word 
as a
whole. We tested this theory like this: I flashed up the letter "g" 
Power Point, I was able to flash a graphic on the screen for just a few
fractions of a second). I asked the 14 students if they could recognize 
letter. They all got it right on the first try. Then I flashed a 
word ("apple"); all but one got it on the first try. Then I flashed a
nonsense word that follows English spelling rules ("blick"). Most got it
right on the first try. At least one person thought it was the word 
but it didn't quite look right; that person got it right on the second
flash. Then I did a combination of letters that is not pronounceable in
English ("nlabk"); only a few got it right on the first try and there 
several who still didn't get it after the third flash. The point is 
that we
don't decipher words by recognizing each individual letter (otherwise 
and blick and apple would all take equal amounts of time).

OK, now on to SL. First I flashed a photo of me signing a simple 
sign. They had all seen the photo in their homework many times before. 
the third flash only two or three correctly identified the sign--there 
just too much to look at. Then I flashed a line drawing (which they had 
seen a time or two in the homework). Again most did not get it on the 
try but after three tries more than half had it correct, but still not
everybody was able to read it. Then I flashed the sign "CAR" in 
SignWriting (SW) and
immediately everyone got it right. There was a HUGE difference in
recognition time. (The students knew the basics of SW and had seen the 
several times but were not yet fluent readers of SW.) Moral: SW makes
reading fast. I can read SW faster than I can physically sign it. 
I can read English faster than I can pronounce it.) A literacy 
told me that slow readers have more comprehension problems because their
minds want to go so much faster, that when they read slowly, their minds
tend to wander and comprehension goes down. SW allows a reader to read 
more quickly than line drawings or photos ever can. Interesting, huh? "

Steve and Dianne Parkhurst
steve-dianne_parkhurst at
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