[sw-l] San Diego Union Tribune Article

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Tue Feb 1 16:43:39 UTC 2005

SignWriting List
February 1, 2005

Five questions: Valerie Sutton


  January 31, 2005

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K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune

Valerie Sutton of La Jolla, a former professional ballet dancer, built 
on her early work developing a notation system for recording body 
movements to create SignWriting (http://www.signwriting.org), an 
"alphabet" of symbols that can be used to write American Sign Language, 
and SignBank (http://www.signbank.org), a database of the symbols. The 
nonprofit Center for Sutton Movement Writing provides free educational 
materials through the SignWriting Literacy Project.

What was the inspiration for SignWriting?

Until SignWriting, sign languages were not written languages. Sign 
language is real language, different from English and with its own 
grammar. It uses your whole body, almost like mime. When I was a 
professional ballet dancer, I invented a way to read and write all body 
movements. That led to Sutton DanceWriting, which led to the beginning 
of SignWriting in 1974. Many people don't know that sign language is 
not international. There are hundreds of sign languages. Because it 
writes body movements, SignWriting can be used to write any sign 
language in the world.

  How widespread is the use of SignWriting?

SignWriting is used in 27 countries, primarily by the educated deaf, 
teachers of the deaf and researchers. Since it is relatively new, deaf 
adults didn't have it in their school systems. The first pilot program 
is in a school for the deaf in Albuquerque, N.M. The program is free 
for any school that is using sign language.

  How did FileMaker get involved?

We have two programs, one called SignBank, a database of the 
SignWriting symbols. SignBank was originally designed for the Macintosh 
in 1988 in a little program called Desk Accessories. When the Mac 
changed, SignBank was out of date. Dr. Penny Boyes Braem of Zurich, 
Switzerland, used FileMaker Pro for her sign-language database of 
mostly video. She wanted to use SignBank, so she asked if we could 
convert it to FileMaker. We found a wonderful programmer, Todd Duell of 
Formulations Pro, a FileMaker database company in Del Mar, to take our 
old database and make it work in FileMaker Pro.

  What technology do you personally rely on?

  I have four Macs. I use Windows programs, but on the Mac. I am also 
the Web designer for all my sites, from MovementWriting.org to 
SymbolBank.org to SignWriting.org. I use Dreamweaver, Macromedia, 
Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat.

  When you were a dancer, did you ever think you'd be so involved in 

I started professional dance training at age 10. At age 15, I started 
writing down the dances I was learning. I published my first textbook 
on dance writing when I was 23 or 24. But I would never have foreseen 
the influence of the computer. I spent a whole 10 years writing it by 

San Diego Union Tribune
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