Category for the toolbox symbols? And some thoughts.

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Thu Jan 15 19:08:30 UTC 2004

SignWriting List
January 15, 2003

Dear SW List Members, and Daniel!
Please forgive my last message to the List...I thought I was writing to
Daniel privately...I hadn't realized we were on the List - ha! And then
a delivery man came to my door and I got interrupted - ha!

So continuing where we left off...

Daniel Noelpp wrote:
> A small question about the toolbox (the separate finger and arm
> lines). I would like to put them into a Category with two groups (one
> for the fingers, one for the arms). Do you have an idea as for the
> Category number for the toolbox symbols?

Thank you, Daniel, for this point... We are thinking the same! I will
be happy to show you all the symbol pieces, and the rules that guide
them, and then you can give me your feedback, based on how you feel
this can be programmed in SignWriter Java...This is one area where you
and I will need to work closely together, and I look forward to it...

> I hope this was not a stupid question. :-)

It is a very smart question! And a necessary one...;-) Keep asking
questions...they are always welcome...;-)

> And another subject. I have been thinking about how you might feel or
> think about the symbols. You wrote once that you didn't care whether
> the symbols flop or not, for example. I got a picture how the
> different groups of people have requests and wishes to you. There are
> the teachers and their children, then the linguists and finally the
> programmers. :-) And all they have big and difficult requests to you.
> :-) And these request sometimes even contradict each other... A
> difficult situation -- I hope I have understood your situation.

Yes. I have seen my job as balancing between all those worlds, trying
to find a writing system that will work for everyone. Back in the
1980's I prepared a flyer that said there were four ways to write
SignWriting: Detailed, Printing, Handwriting and Shorthand. That was my
way of trying to service every group...and it seems those four methods
continue to be needed at times today...

But if I have to make a choice, I want to choose to reach the everyday create a daily writing system for children and adults
alike...for the native users of signed languages. There are other
notation systems that focus on linguistic research, but SignWriting is
the only one that is capable of writing Sign Language Literature, read
by Deaf children...capturing the visual nature of the language as best
as is possible...making it easy to read, if you already know how to

> I think the power of SignWriting stems from it not being academic.
> Children, for example, don't ask about linguistic issues or whether a
> symbol rotates or not. They just use them. SignWriting makes it easy
> to think as a human. So it is difficult to capture SignWriting into a
> computer, to categorize it, etc. I wonder that you were able to do
> this second step after designing the symbols.

Smile. What you say is exactly correct, Daniel. Although I was first
asked to develop SignWriting at the University of Copenhagen, the truth
is, that the researchers there did not want to create a way to write
for everyday use...The only way that I could accomplish SignWriting
development was outside of academic institutions...For example, the
first newspaper in history, written by an all native-signing Deaf
staff, was created out of my garage in California. Our meetings on how
to spell ASL signs, were held in our living room...And when the Salk
Institute staff worked with me years later, they would come after their
work at Salk to my home, and we would sit on my floor and write our
first ASL dictionary. And when Rich Gleaves first worked on SignWriter
1.0, he and I would do it at a computer in my living room! So
everything was created "outside of academia", but then later, teachers
and researchers started to use SignWriting and it slowly became more
accepted in academic circles too...

So you are right that the designing of the majority of the symbols were
all developed without computers. From 1974 to 1986, we wrote by hand
with ink pens, including the publishing of the SignWriter
Newspapers...that was all written by hand too. I developed other several Notation Templates for writing better by ink pens,
and also wax transfer sheets for pressing wax symbols on boards for
printing...but we didn't type anything until Rich Gleaves and I made
our first attempt at SignWriter 1.0 in 1986...

> It is like growing a plant. If you cut it too early it won't grow very
> well. You have to let it grow first but after some time there are
> requests or wishes to the plant and of course sometimes it hurts to
> cut or bend branches... And if one does too much refining the plant
> loses its power and even if it might be straight and pretty for the
> moment, soon it will be wilting...

You are a poet! Yes...There are both strengths and dangers to making
changes to symbols...I will be happy to write more about this
soon...Everyone has excellent ideas...but thousands of people are using
these symbols daily already, so if we make a change to an established
symbol, then we have to teach it to everyone, and they have to change
the way they are writing daily...that can be painful...

So that is why, on the SSS-2004 keyboard, there are those symbols that
are "established" and flop and rotate and all those things...and those
should not be changed because people already know them and write with
them...and then there will be a few keys that are flexible, where
people can type and create...but those will not be "official"
symbols...and they cannot rotate or flop, since the computer program
will only see them as pieces put together, rather than official symbols
that have the rotations already programmed... then in time, if some of
those created symbols become accepted by others around the world, we
can always include them in the offical list someday...

> I think SignWriting is like a strong, robust and beautiful tree.
> I hope my thoughts were to the point.

Beautifully! Thank you for your wonderful comments...and ironically, we
build handshapes like a tree...I will post something about this as soon
as I can - The tree concept was first taught in a book I wrote in 1978
called "DanceWriting for Modern & Jazz Dance" in which it compares the
rules of Hand Construction to the building of a tree...I will find that
and post that soon -

Many blessings to you and your team, Daniel!

Val ;-)

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