Discussion question

ReBecca abcasl at COX.NET
Mon Feb 23 19:06:03 UTC 2004

My part of the discussion which brought up the discussion question posted
ASL is a language because:
1. It is a system, a communication method, which is understood by more than
one person.
2. It is a form of expression, same as can be said of other languages.
3. It meets all the criteria of a language. Yet some would say that because
ASL is not a written language then it does not meet all of the criteria,
because languages can also be read. This is not true. All languages are
established before being put in written form.

Sign Writing is attempting to make ASL into a written form, but it is a
complex task. ASL incorporates its' own distinct set of grammatical rules
and there are lots of rules to the "grammaticals", so it will take some time
to get this system going. It will never be completed, as no languages will
ever be complete. All languages change and grow. There is a list serve that
discusses and is working on the technical aspects of Sign Writing. It is
quite interesting.

-----Original Message-----
From: SignWriting List [mailto:SW-L at ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA]On Behalf Of
Stuart Thiessen
Sent: Monday, February 23, 2004 12:54 PM
Subject: Re: Discussion question

That is a poorly worded question.  I'm not sure what they are trying to

Here's a few thoughts depending on what angle they are talking from:

If they are trying to compare SW to MCE (Manually Coded English) in the
sense that SW is another type of MCE or Cued Speech or other
hearing-imposed sign system, then there are no parallels other than its
invention by a hearing person. A first key distinction between MCE's
and SW is that SW is technically politically neutral. Of itself, it
does not promote one sign system or sign language above another. The
reality is you can write MCE's or Cued Speech with SignWriting just as
well as you can write LSE, ASL, LSQ, or any other sign language in the
world.  SW simply provides a method by which the movements can be
written and then read again at a later date.

A second key distinction is that SW increases the value of natural sign
languages because it provides a valuable tool for writing those
languages and enabling them to become the peers of natural spoken
languages in the area of literacy. MCE's don't need a writing system
because Standard English _is_ its writing system. SW provides a tool
for users of natural sign languages to express themselves in their own
language without having to use a natural spoken language as the medium
of written communication.

I recently went to a "Deaf Deaf World" workshop where they tried to
give hearing people a sense of the deaf experience. During that
workshop, an CODA consultant/interpreter made the (by now familiar)
comment that sign languages cannot be written and they are different
from spoken languages because they are concept languages, etc. This
common myth in an attempt to bring value to sign languages actually
devalues sign languages because it seeks to create a distinction
between sign languages and spoken languages when in reality there are
far more similarities than differences. Both sign languages and spoken
languages are concept languages. If they were not, then how would
meaning be communicated?  Granted, sign language exploit the visual
modality of sign language to create vivid images, but that is an use of
modality, not a different category of language (e.g., word languages
versus concept languages, or whatever distinction might be drawn).

Afterwards, I went up to her and said that the concept of sign
languages as unwriteable is a myth.  The reality is that sign languages
have been written since 1965 when Stokoe first proposed his system. The
question is not: "Can sign languages be written?" but rather "What
system (if any) will the deaf community adopt to write their language?"
  As Valerie has mentioned from time to time and history affirms, it
takes significant time before a writing system is embraced by a
community unless it is forced by government edict (e.g., the present
Hangul system used by the Koreans).  The most accurate description of
the state of written sign language is simply to say: "While various
systems exist for writing sign languages, the deaf community as a whole
has not formally adopted any writing system as the recognized writing
system for their sign language. Various individuals who value literacy
in their own language have embraced various systems for various
reasons, and only time will tell which writing system will actually
become the de facto standard for specific sign languages."

Last, but not least, we can look at the linguistic basis for MCE's
versus the linguistic basis for SW.  Insofar as I have read, MCE's
really do not have any linguistic basis to prove that they are
beneficial. In fact, linguistic research has already proven that MCE's
break established sign language linguistic rules. For example, I
understand that word formation rules in spoken languages and sign
languages are different because of modality. It is relatively easy for
the brain to process relatively long speech patterns. Therefore, we see
many languages with affixes, infixes, and suffixes to form words and
change their meanings.  On the other hand, the brain cannot process
long signed sequences, so sign languages tend to utilize more
articulators simultaneously and send chunks of visual information at a
time.  So you can have facial expressions, body movements, hand
movements, and so forth all chunked together.  MCE's try to use the
affixes, suffixes, etc. of spoken English onto the signs of ASL.  But
this violates the rules of sign language word formation. In fact, those
who used MCE's as children will sign more like ASL as adults because it
is easier to understand the signs if you follow sign language word
formation rules rather than spoken language word formation rules.

SW, on the other hand, simply identifies movements, handshapes, body
movements, facial expressions, etc. that need to be transcribed. The
writer has the freedom to choose the level of detail that he/she wishes
to express.  The less detail the writer uses, the more the writer
depends on the reader's own linguistic ability. The more detail the
writer includes, the less the reader must depend on his/her own
linguistic ability. For example, nglsh rdrs wll prbbly stll b bl t rd
ths sntnc bt ppl wth lss nglsh sklls my nt b bl t rd ths. (English
readers will probably still be able to read this sentence but people
with less English skills may not be able to read this.)  Now MCE's
enforce English language and English writing on the user.  SW leaves
the language choice to the writer and merely gives him/her the tools to
transcribe things in the visual modality.

So are there any significant parallels between SignWriting and MCE's?
Nothing really in my opinion.  They just happened to be developed
around the same timeframe, but one (MCE's) emphasizes the spoken
language and the hearing expectation for deaf to become hearing.  The
other (SW) values sign language and provides a medium for deaf people
to express themselves within their own language and culture with the
potential of also increasing their ability to communicate in the
national written language as bridges are built between the written form
of sign language and the written form of the spoken language.

My few bits in there. Thanks,


On Feb 23, 2004, at 11:14 AM, ReBecca wrote:

> Hey ALL!!!!  Yes, I am still in college (I think I will forever be
> there).
> I brought up SignWriting in a discussion class the other night.  I am
> trying
> to get notes together before tonight's class to the discussion that
> had to
> end the other night.  This was the last thing stated (I have a
> notetaker
> thank goodness!)
> "Do you see a parallel between this development of SignWriting and the
> difference between how English and ASL vs. Manually Coded Forms of
> English
> came to be?"
> Anyone wanna join in on the discussion, cause I am floundering right
> now!
> Sincerely,
> ReBecca

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