Report on 1st European SignWriters Symposium.

Barbara Pennacchi barbara.pennacchi at ISTC.CNR.IT
Tue Aug 23 13:26:53 UTC 2005

Hi to y'all signwriters!

I apologize for the looong delay in translating (and expanding it, too)  
the small report I and Alessio di Renzo (the other Italian participant to  
the ESWS -- we were only 2 people) we wrote for out bosses.

Sorry if it is a bit longish, hope it may satisfy the curiosity of all the  
people that couldn't attend the symposium.

21 JULY (1st day) --
In the morning, after the usual stuff (registration, opening and so on),  
Kathleen Heylen, from belgium, and Stefan Wohrmann, from germany (sorry  
stefan, I'm no good at hunting diacritic marks under linux), presented  
their talks on "education and sign writing techniques".

Ms. Kathleen's talk was centered mostly on her experience in teaching  
children how to write down belgian sign language, within the context of a  
bilingual primary school. She started 2 years ago, with the aim to give  
children the chance to learn how to read and write in their own sign  
language. It seems that the implicit objective of her project is to help  
them reinforce awareness and knowledge of their own sign language. In her  
talk she showed not only some of the exercises she gave children, but also  
5 relevant points of her work with the children:

1) phonology (i.e. use of colors and "minimal couples" to mark different  
elements of a sign)
2) morphology (i.e. the use of polysyntactic signs, as kathleen defines  
what we'd call roughly "classifiers")
3) syntax (i.e. making visible the change of meaning between two slightly  
different SL sentences)
4) semantics (i.e. marking the differences between synonyms and/or  
5) pragmatics (i.e. awareness of different linguistic registers such as  
formal/informal signs)

Stefan Wohrmann's talk was apparently similar to kathleen's but his aims  
are a bit different: he uses signwriting and/or "mundbildschrift" to  
reinforce knowledge and understanding of written/spoken german, by using  
elements of german sign language as starting points for learning written/ 
spoken german as a second language.

After lunch (btw, the subs were good! :), two discussion groups were  
formed. One was focused on SW spelling,, led by Stefan Wohrmann and Sara  
Geudens, the other on SWTechnology and Computer, with Trevor Jenkins as  

Alessio attended the first discussion group, Barbara the second.

SW Spelling discussion group:
Initially, the moderators (stefan and sara) tried to teach us how to read  
and write SW symbols, but since most of its participants already knew how  
to read and write SW, we split into 2 sub-groups: one for people that  
really didn't know much about SW and another for people with more  
experience in SW.

I (alessio) attended the latter group, where we discussed on what would be  
the best learning process for SW and children. Some people in the grouplet  
disagreed on using SW only as a "supporting code" for written languages.  
Then we discussed on how to write into SW a dialogue between 2 people, as  
in other written languages that have punctuation symbols. An agreement was  
somehow found: each sentence uttered should be preceded by the signer's  

During this discussion, Juliette from Toulouse (France) described her  
recent experience of working for about 1 or 2 months with a very small  
group of deaf children in a bilingual school in her town: the aims of her  
project were quite similar to Kathleen's project, but differing in the  
"educative process", as Juliette never used PC for printing or writing SW  
and, to make children more acquainted with SW, she gave them not only  
reading exercises but also  lot of writing exercises.

SW Computer/Technology Group:
It initially started as a lesson by Daniel Noelpp on how to use SignWriter  
DOS to write down signs, since it shares a lot of features with SW Java  
and SW Tiger. But the lesson soon became a discussion in itself, since  
there were some participants that didn't know SW at all, while others  
already knew bot SW and SW-DOS. After the short afternoon break, those  
participants joined the abovesaid sub-group to learn more about SW itself,  
so the remaining people continued discussing on where and how is going  
software development for SW in the near future... (I, Barbara, must admit  
that I might have been a bit monomaniac on the problem of using SW  
software for Sign Language research purposes :p)

22 JULY (2nd day) --
The morning talks were given by Daniel Noelpp and Lars Majewski, who  
described their work on, respectively, Sign Writer Tiger and Sign Writer  
Daniel has briefly explained what Sign Writer Tiger can do at the present  
stage of development (e.g.: it can read and write SW documents, but it  
can't yet print them and it can't manage dictionaries) and explained that  
this is due to the fact that it isn't YET finished. Then he described what  
would be the future features of SW Tiger, as its development proceeds.
One of the "snags" of SW Tiger development, if I understood correctly, is  
the fact the symbol set of SW is still in evolution, it hasn't been carved  
into stone like Moses'tables.
Lars Majewski, in presenting his SignWriter Python, has explained that  
this too is still under development, and for this reason his project has a  
"modular" nature, with 5 small programs, each doing a specific task  
related to SignWriting. Of those 5, only 2 are already ready and  
downloadable: the Dictionary Browser, a program that loads and displays SW  
dictionaries made with SW-DOS, and the SignFile Viewer, another programs  
that can load, display and export as graphic files old SignWriter files.  
The other 3 would be called SignFile Creator, SignEditor and SignWriter.

After lunch, we gathered back into the same discussion groups as  

The SW group discussed over the following topics:
- Why SW is already perceived as written language, even if it's not yet  
"recognized" by deaf community? Even if SW contact happens with deaf  
children first?
- How would SW evolve with its usage with one's own sign language within  
the deaf community?
Obviously, due to the nature of the topics raised, no conclusion was  
reached... yet :-)

The other group of discussion expanded upon the morning talks, especially  
on what would be necessary to help both Daniel Noelpp and Lars Majewski,  
who are actually working alone on their programs' development. Some beta- 
testers (people that don't panic if their program freezes or crashes and  
can send back to developers what they did do to crash the program and what  
actually happened) and some other people that can write code in Java or  
Python would be surely appreciated by Lars and Daniel. We then discussed  
of the need not only of programs that can write/display/print SW texts,  
but also of programs that can ease up SL researchers's work (like  
transcribing and analyzing different features of signed texts, but using  
SW symbolset and not various conventions/artifices "borrowed" by roman  

Then, after group discussions, we gathered back together for a collective  
discussion on the idea of creating an european organization of sign  
writers (ESWO), but the discussion didn't reach a reliable conclusion  
maybe due to the apparent "suddeness" of this ESWO idea, in some of the  
participants' perception, and to the fact that we were all tired (some DID  
celebrate the 175th anniversary of belgium the evening before...). So the  
details and the nitty-gritty work of estabilishing ESWO and how will be  
discussed later, by email.

Another point of discussion raised was to decide how would be the  
frequency of subsequent european symposiums on SW, yearly or every 2  
years. After some arguing and discussion, the majority of the participants  
agreed on "every 2 years". So there. Next symposium will be in 2007,  
probably in London. Not in august, hopefully :)


any error, omission, misunderstanding is solely our own responsibility,  
mine and of Alessio :-) And any error in translating is my responsibility  
only. So sue me :)

P.S.: our deepest thanks to Val for donating the cd-rom of "lessons in  

| Barbara Pennacchi               barbara.pennacchi (at) |
|                 Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche                 |
|         Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione          |
|       Via S. Martino della Battaglia 44, 00185 Roma, Italia        |
|                                   |

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