Stuart Thiessen smt_sw at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Feb 16 17:56:43 UTC 2004

I have some information about SignFont on paper, but I too have noticed 
that there is very little if anything out there on the Web ... just 
dead links. From what I have understood, Sam Suppalla (sp?) in Arizona 
was using the SignFont system (or a modified version of it, I don't 
know) as a transitional system for deaf children but then apparently 
abandoning its use as they acquired English.  That is the only usage of 
SignFont that I am aware of. I know of one hearing interpreter who 
prefers the SignFont system because of its linear nature and because it 
is a good compromise between Stokoe and HamNoSys.  But he is the only 
person I know who is actively using the system.  I am not aware of any 
deaf communities that are presently using the system.

It is essentially obsolete in comparison to Stokoe (and its variants), 
HamNoSys, and SignWriting which still have active users today. I too 
did a comparison of writing systems and, so far, my observation has 
been that all linear systems of writing signed languages break down 
particularly when it comes to the facial expressions and use of the 
body (particularly the mime segments of ASL). This is because those 
elements step outside of the rigid structure necessary for expressing 
signs in a linear fashion. This ability to represent facial expressions 
and use of the body continues to be a significant advantage of 
SignWriting as a writing system for signed languages. SignFont did have 
some generalized facial expressions, but Don had set up symbols for the 
face as a whole which limited the ability of the writer to select other 
variations of facial expressions than what he had set up. I have not 
noticed any formal descriptions of facial expressions in the HamNoSys 
system, but it is also important to note that the purpose of HamNoSys 
seems not to be an everyday writing system, but to be a research 
notation system.  So even if they did add facial expressions, etc., I 
believe the system would be too cumbersome as an everyday notation 

When I teach SignWriting, I always show my deaf friends the writing 
options they have for expressing their language in writing.  
Invariably, once they understand the usage of SignWriting symbols, they 
prefer the SignWriting system over linear systems because of its 
clarity. Last summer, I had a workshop at the Iowa Association of the 
Deaf.  After a 2 hour workshop, they were able to identify written 
signs for common items in the room (floor, door, ceiling, man, woman, 
etc.). They saw the potential of the system and they saw how it was 
relatively simple to map their movements to the written form itself.  I 
continue to see that as a marked advantage to the linear systems for 
everyday use.

So, in short, whatever the advantages or disadvantages of the SignFont 
system, for better or for worse, it appears at this point to be merely 
a footnote in sign notation history rather than an active writing 
system for signed languages. If you have access to a fax, I'd be happy 
to dig out a few pages and fax you some example pages from the 
information I have. I don't have access to a scanner at the present or 
I could send it via email.


Stuart Thiessen
Pass It On Services
Des Moines, Iowa

On Feb 16, 2004, at 10:54 AM, Tamar Bernfeld wrote:

> Hi :)
> I'm writing a paper comparing notation systems for signed languages.  
> One of the systems I want to review is SignFont developed by Don 
> Newkirk in 1987(?).
>  Does anyone have any information on this system?  I would like a list 
> of the graphemes, etc...however, I am having trouble finding any 
> publications.
> If you know of anything it would be greatly appreciated!!!
> Thanks.
> Tamar
>  Do you Yahoo!?
>  Yahoo! Finance: Get your refund fast by filing online

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