[sw-l] SW system type... alphabetic vs. others ( pictographic, ideographic, logographic)

Stuart Thiessen sw at PASSITONSERVICES.ORG
Tue Jun 21 18:19:07 UTC 2005

Of all the terms I have seen, I prefer to use the term featural. Why? 
It is a term that linguists already use for the only other writing 
system that shares a similarity with SW. SW is a featural writing 
system because it focuses on writing the features.  Because spoken 
language articulators are hidden, it is more difficult to have a 
featural writing system for spoken languages. That is why we haven't 
seen more of those for spoken language.

But SW (and really all the other notation systems for sign languages) 
are all featural writing systems because we are concerned with writing 
all the features of the sign.  Each system has strengths and weaknesses 
in how it transcribes those features. Because sign language 
articulators are all visible, I would think that SL writing systems 
will tend to be featural.  How those features are represented may vary 
from writing system to writing system.

Just my 2 cents worth,


On Jun 21, 2005, at 12:51, Charles Butler wrote:

> Iconographic alphabet for movement seems the right term to use.  One 
> uses specific reduced shapes (icons) to create an alphabetic system to 
> show any of the five parts of a sign (handshape, orientation, 
> movement, articulation, non-manuals) as phonemes/cheremes (discrete 
> units dividable by minimal pairs) plus conventions for 3-dimensional 
> writing. 
> To compare to the only other movement writing system I know a little 
> about, labonotation, sign writing's advantage is its iconicity.  With 
> only a few hours of instruction, a native-born user of sign is reading 
> their own language fluently.
> nemery at u.washington.edu wrote:
>> this is interesting, I just wrote about this topic yesterday in a 
>> paper for my linguistics program!
>> So here's what I said:
>> "SignWriting is an interesting combination of a phonetic and an 
>> iconic writing system. In that it
>> encodes the articulation of the sign rather than the meaning of the 
>> referent, it is phonetic or
>> phonological (depending on the narrowness of the transcription). But 
>> since both the articulators
>> and the writing system are perceived visually, it can represent much 
>> of the phonological form
>> iconically, using considerable visual analogy for faces, handshapes 
>> and locations. More arbitrary
>> conventions are needed for distinguishing, for example, in which 
>> plane a handshape is being
>> viewed, since three dimensional signing space must be compressed onto 
>> two-dimensional
>> paper."
>> You're right that "pictographic" is a bad choice, ! Ingrid, not just 
>> for political reasons but becuase
>> it's inaccurate -in SignWriting, we don't draw a picture of a cloud 
>> to write the sign for "cloud".
>> But I would NOT call SignWriting ideogrammatic, because that would 
>> mean that how we write a
>> sign represents the *idea* that the sign stands for - which it 
>> doesn't.
>> Nancy
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