ESWS - European SW Symposium

Thu Aug 4 04:05:32 UTC 2005

hi Geoffrey,

welcome and thank you for taking on the big job of co-ordinating info on sign languages of Asia 
and Europe for SIL!  I love your orgnaization's Ethnologue.  (I'm a linguistics grad student.)

It does seem that you have plenty of work cut out for you, and I agree that trying to learn all 
those different sign languages isn't possible and would be daunting to even think about.  But 
since you asked what we think....

I think that if you have a little time and interest, learning even a little about one signed language 
- whichever one is used where you are, or would be easiest for you to start learning - would be 
both fascinating for you, as a linguist, and valuable for your understanding of all those 
languages.  Of course sign language is not universal, and vocabularies differ a lot.  But a lot of 
the basic way the grammar works is shared - a lot of commonalities seem to flow out of the 
combination of being visually perceived and being articulated in visible 3 dimensional space.  
More types of linguistic iconicity seem to be possible in visual languages than in spoken ones, 
becuase more of what we communicate about has to do with size, shape, location, movement, 
how people handle objects, people's posture and facial expressions (all things open to iconic 
representation in sign) than has to do with sounds. Referents can be "set up" in a location in 
space and from then on you can point to that location as a pronoun for the referent, or indicate 
that the referent is the subject or object for some verbs by having the verb's path of motion 
begin or end at that location.  That seems to be true cross-linguistically in all sign languages.

Also, you learn something about social interaction with Deaf people - in ASL, that includes 
things like the importance of maintaining eye contact, which takes more practice than you'd 
think.  A lot of people will meet you half-way if you look attentive and pick up your hands to 
show you're willing to try to communicate.

Maybe you know all this already.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is - don't feel obligated to learn a sign language.  But feel 
encouraged to begin one - even if you don't learn it well, you'll learn a lot, and if you look at it 
as "anything I learn is more than I knew before", I think you'll enjoy it a lot.

Nancy Emery

On Wed, 3 Aug 2005, Geoffrey Hunt wrote:

> Stephan wrote and asked me to contribute my impressions of the European
> SignWriting Symposium.  I'm a little reluctant to do this, because I am
> probably the least competent person to do it.  Let me explain why...
> I am a member of SIL International, an organisation that in one way or
> another is associated with work in over 1,300 languages worldwide, almost
> all of them spoken languages.  For twelve years I worked in Ghana as a
> linguist/translator and, since then, have mostly been involved with the use
> of computers for language work, but always for spoken languages.  Then, two
> and a half years ago, my then boss asked me, as an additional task, to be
> involved with coordinating work in sign languages for the SIL Eurasia Area
> (the whole of Europe, the former Soviet Union and parts of Africa and west
> Asia).  I decided I needed to find out what he was talking about, so set
> about gathering a list of all the sign languages for which I could find
> details.  For the Eurasia Area I have a list of 70 SLs, of which 7 are
> extinct or nearly so.  So which one of these 63 SLs should I attempt to
> learn in my part-time role?  At my late stage in life, it does not seem
> practical to start learning any of them, because I could not do it well.
> (Let me know what you think.)  So you see why I feel particularly
> unqualified to contribute.
> One thing that does interest me is how computers could be used to serve the
> Deaf community, either for use by the Deaf or for use by those working with
> the Deaf.  So I came to ESWS because I wanted to link up with those already
> involved in writing such software.  We in SIL are starting such software
> development using the Python programming language, so it was particularly
> useful to meet Lars, whose own development work is using Python.
> The best thing about ESWS was meeting the participants.  Obviously, I could
> not communicate with everyone, but I appreciated the general camaraderie.  I
> learnt a lot, particularly about SW and Deaf culture.  And I made new
> friends and look forward to meeting you at future events.  A few of us tried
> to decide on a sign for me, but it doesn't seem quite right, so perhaps I
> will have to wait for another time.
> Best wishes,
> Geoffrey (Hunt)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stefan Wöhrmann [mailto:stefanwoehrmann at]
> Sent: 28 July 2005 22:38
> To: 'Geoffrey_Hunt'
> Subject: AW: [sw-l] ESWO
> Hello Geoffrey,
> I am so happy to know you on the list - very welcome!!!
> Of course - I will send some pictures -;-)
> Can you post your ideas , impressions, ?
> What happened in your group from your point of view?
> I am very interested in any comment - just as we concluded at the end of the
> meeting.
> Stefan ;-)
> Just btw  what was your name sign ? I forgot my notes in the restaurant. I
> am sorry!

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