Discussion question

Stuart Thiessen smt_sw at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Feb 23 19:42:07 UTC 2004

I don't know if I agree with the phrase: "attempting to make ASL into a
written form."

What distinguishes SignWriting from every other writing system for sign
languages is very simple: other sign language writing systems seek to
develop their writing systems based on a linguistic analysis of the
language they are writing. Stokoe, HamNoSys, and SignFont all come from
linguistic analyses that attempted to describe sign languages.

SignWriting simply seeks to develop a set of symbols that will describe
all the necessary movements that can happen in a sign language
discourse. The only changes that happen to SignWriting is when a writer
identifies a movement, handshape, etc. for which there is no symbol.
Then a new symbol must be devised or an existing symbol must be
modified to write that movement, handshape, or whatever it is. As it
is, the existing symbol set gives a writer of sign languages great
flexibility to express the details of sign languages.  Some things may
not need to be written in extreme detail and, at times, an existing
symbol can be enough to communicate the movement, handshape, etc.

ASL is a language simply because it meets all the qualifications of a
true language.  It has syntax, morphology, semantics, grammar ... in
short, all the expected elements of a language. Its only difference is
in its modality.  The existence (or lack thereof) of writing is
actually irrelevant to the discussion of whether a language is a
language or not. The reality is that there are over 6,000 languages and
a good number of them have not been written ... yet.  They still
qualify as full-fledged languages. The unwritten ones simply haven't
had the opportunity to exploit the advantages of written forms as of
yet.  To disqualify a language simply on the basis of a lack of written
form is simply another form of linguistic bigotry (if you will pardon
the harsh terminology).

SignWriting really doesn't focus on the linguistic rules or
requirements of a sign language. It simply seeks to present the most
accurate transcription of the movements involved in signed discourse.
The writer has the flexibility to make that transcription as detailed
or as simple as he/she desires. Like Valerie mentions often,
SignWriting is really an IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for the
visual modality. Just like the IPA does not get involved in the
linguistics of how the language expresses itself, but merely
transcribes the auditory characteristics of the language, so also
SignWriting merely transcribes the visual characteristics of the sign
language discourse. Those who analyze the transcription can then
utilize the written transcription to describe the language more fully.



On Feb 23, 2004, at 1:06 PM, ReBecca wrote:

> My part of the discussion which brought up the discussion question
> posted
> here...
> 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
> ask.
> 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,
> Stuart
> 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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