Advantages of ASL GLoss for SignWriting

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at UNM.EDU
Sun Mar 28 16:46:13 UTC 2004

        I've been lurking for a while, but I wanted to put in my two cents
here.  The use of glosses is relatively easy for native English speakers
and a certain subset of native ASL signers who are good with languages,
but it raises the bar too high on the rest of the native signers.

        I studied one of the Albuquerque Public Schools classrooms back in
1999, and my impression was that it's only the kids who were really gifted
with language (or late-deafened, or hard-of-hearing) who could pick up
written English vocabulary without a lot of work.  For the rest of them,
the effort would be better spent studying the other skills that they'll
need to find good jobs later in life.  And in building general writing
skills in the language they know best (ASL) which could later be
transferred to English.

        It could be argued that the gloss system is similar to that used
by Chinese, in that there's a large variety of semi-arbitrary groupings of
symbols that need to be memorized.  It's been argued for Chinese that it
also allows people who speak different (mutually unintelligible) Chinese
"dialects" to communicate, and to read much older texts with greater ease
than English speakers do in English.  But Chinese suffers from the same
problem, that it takes a lot more work to get to a certain level of
literacy, so more people are excluded from Chinese literacy than from
alphabetic literacy.

        SignWriter falls into this trap over and over, where people who
have mastered languages like English with a long written tradition find it
easier to use the dictionary function than to type signs from scratch, so
they never learn to type and never pass it on to the native signers.
Part of this is because the SignWriter typing system is difficult to
master, but I think it would actually be better in the long run if the
dictionary lookup function weren't included in SignWriter.

                                        -Angus B. Grieve-Smith
                                        Linguistics Department
                                        University of New Mexico
                                        grvsmth at
                                        grvsmth at

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