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

Steve Slevinski slevin at SIGNPUDDLE.NET
Wed Jun 22 08:28:27 UTC 2005

Hi Stuart,

I appreciate your opinion and point of view. This is one of the great
features of SignWriting. It is a big tent idea. Val has invited us all
to come in and play around. It is a process of discovery. Different
perspectives help us learn and grow. I only hope that I do more good
than harm.

I understand that linguists need special terms. They need to analyze and
discuss and argue about what is happening in language. I didn't mean to
imply that specialized jargon should be thrown out.

Upon reflection, my email was about talking to various audiences that
need to learn more about sign language in general and SignWriting in

The primary audience I'm concerned about is native signers. We need to
encourage native signers to learn about SignWriting and to start
writing. I'm hoping that I can convince native signers to write lengthy
documents using SignPuddle 2 (when it's ready). If they do, SignPuddle
will prove the superiority of SignWriting for all time and it will be
embraced by Deaf culture. I say that because SignPuddle will not tell
Deaf what sign language is, it will show Deaf how sign language is
written by Deaf writers. The ASL hand-shape alphabet has 74 symbols not
because of my authority, but because that's the symbols that writers are
using. SignPuddle is about reflecting language, not dictating language.

The secondary audience (for me anyway) is people with deep pockets.
Philanthropy is very scarce for sign language projects. Even more scarce
for SignWriting projects. Small grants are a problem for most projects
that I know of. There's not enough to go around.

For people with deep pockets, you have about 1 minute to generate
sufficient interest so that they take the time to consider your
proposition. Realistically, you have about 10 seconds to get them
interested enough to listen to the next 50 seconds differently.

Neither of these audience is interested in the technical jargon of
programmers or linguists. If you use words they don't immediately
understand, you've lost their interest. I'm sure you could create an
hour long presentation about the value of sign language and the
importance of SignWriting, but if you confuse them with jargon and don't
immediately capture their interest, you will be wasting your time and

And I'm still upset about the spoken language bias inherent in most
languages. Even the artificial language "Lojban" has a bias against
signed languages. And the funny thing is that Lojban was created to
eliminate cultural bias from language and test a variation of the
Sapir-Worf hypothesis. However, Lojban is still in development so I need
to have a chat with the organizing committee. I'll tell you how it goes


Stuart Thiessen wrote:

> Hi Steve!
> I understand what you are trying to express. However, like any field
> of expertise, it contains technical terms to help the specialists of
> the field understand exactly what they mean. Computer programmers have
> their technical jargon, and so do linguists. I don't agree that we
> need to throw out all the technical terms to "reduce bias." If one
> reviews the research being done in sign languages, it is easily
> apparent that there is a lot to learn about our ability to learn
> language through either modality (speech or sign).
> Also, like any specialists, we need to consider our audience and the
> purpose of our discussion. If we are discussing the proper linguistic
> definition of some aspect of sign languages, we should use the proper
> terms. If we are only have a "lay" discussion of the topic, then using
> "lay" terms is appropriate.
> In my case, I prefer the technical term "featural" to describe what
> kind of writing system SignWriting is. To me, it is the most accurate
> term available for the writing system. For "lay" terms, an alphabet
> may be one way to describe it, but it is not necessarily the best
> technical term. If we explain the terms then it has meaning. For
> hearing, once they know that the Korean writing system is similiar in
> approach as SignWriting (because the symbols in the Korean system
> correspond with how the sounds are produced), then that helps them to
> see that SW isn't so strange after all. For ASL deaf, I tend to point
> out some of the non-manual markers we tend to use in our
> conversations. I explain how those can be included in our writing ...
> oh, yeah and by the way, we can write the signs clearly too ;) . Most
> alphabets, syllabaries, abjads, etc. are symbols that represent the
> final product of the articulators. SignWriting goes one level deeper
> and actually shows the articulators in motion (in a manner of
> speaking). So does Korean as I understand it or at least that is the
> closest analogy we have from spoken languages.
> I'm less inclined to "throw out the technical terms". I think it is
> better for us to help clarify the terms and illustrate where sign
> languages are similar or different than spoken languages. Over time,
> the bias will disappear. If one studies the professional literature on
> sign languages, then it is next to impossible that they can truly
> retain the bias against sign languages. And if they have the bias
> anyway, changing the wiktionary isn't going to do a whole lot to
> change things in my opinion. Personally, the more we use SignWriting
> to describe sign languages and the linguistic properties of sign
> languages _and_ to develop literature in our sign languages, the more
> people will begin to see the value of both sign languages in general
> and SignWriting as a system to record sign languages. When they see
> our professional discussions of the terms, then they will be more
> inclined to listen because we are pointing out clarifications in how
> they use their terms rather than simply throwing out the words because
> we don't like the meaning they attach to those technical terms.
> But again that's my opinion. ;)
> Stuart
> On Jun 21, 2005, at 18:53, Steve Slevinski wrote:
>     Hi all,
>     I love the term IMWA for many reasons. I'm a self proclaimed IMWA
>     snob. The IMWA is a true alphabet even though the dictionary
>     definition of an alphabet is outdated.
>     *Outdated Webster's definition of Alphabet* - /the letters used in
>     writing a language, arranged in a traditional order./
>     The IMWA does not contain letters, it contains symbols. The term
>     "character" is sufficient to represent either a letter or a
>     symbol. So the new and improved definition of an alphabet should
>     be...
>     *Alphabet*: /the characters used in writing a language, arranged
>     in a standardized order/.
>     And that's the IMWA. Sorting a sign language dictionary is only
>     possible because of the arranged order of symbols in the IMWA.
>     As a lay programmer, most of the mumbo jumbo of academia is
>     difficult for me. If you want to discuss "morphological sign
>     primitives" I immediately stop listening and try to figure out
>     what you're talking about.
>     I prefer simple and direct terminology. However, all of the simple
>     terminology is biased towards spoken languages. This is a problem
>     that we do not have to accept.
>     When I was discussing the ASL hand alphabet with a Deaf friend, he
>     immediately thought of fingerspelling the 26 letters of the
>     English alphabet.
>     <unknown.jpg>
>     Then I explained the 74 symbols of the ASL hand alphabet as a
>     subset of the IMWA with their own standard order.
>     <unknown.jpg>
>     His idea of an alphabet expanded and his respect for SignWriting
>     increased. And there was pride in his new understanding.
>     Lucyna had a challenge for programmers. Well, I have a challenge
>     for linguists. Update the spoken and signed languages of the world
>     without making it more complicated. We need to eliminate the bias
>     against signed languages. This will do more for our cause than
>     defining exact terms that describe exact meaning using fancy Latin
>     derivatives. We should have an active campaign to update the
>     wiktionary dictionary.. (http://en.wiktionary.org)
>     I believe we do more if we challenge someone's preconceived idea
>     of an alphabet than if we try and get them to understand the
>     terminology that linguists use when writing peer reviewed papers.
>     But that's my opinion,
>     -Steve
>     Marc Girod & Anne-Claude Prélaz Girod wrote:Hello Tomas
>         I don't know if you've read the work of Joe Martin who writes
>         on the
>         different notation system that do exist for sign languages...
>         and compares
>         them (Stockoes...) with SW
>         (you can find his article on the web on:
>         www.signwriting.org/forums/linguistics/ling008.html
>         one of the interesting things he says is the this system is
>         very iconic...
>         because what's seen on the paper do look a lot like the
>         sign... (this fact
>         makes it realaly easy to read a document written in SW....
>         which is not the
>         cas with a document written with Stokoe's notation)
>         As Valerie said in a previous mail, this system is not a
>         drawing system but
>         a writing system... in oral languages... we talk about
>         alphabetic system...
>         I don'tknow what name we should use for sign languages.... but
>         what is sure,
>         exactly as you explain in your mail, is that SignWriting
>         writes down the
>         symbols which are called "chereme" (units of the second
>         articulation of sign
>         languages, equivalent of phonemes in the oral languages)
>         and putting together the different symbols (the different
>         cheremes)... you
>         get a sign with a meaning... these units are, in linguistics
>         called,
>         "kinemes" (equivalent of monemes in the oral languages) and
>         are the units of
>         the first articulation of sign languages... that's quite hard
>         to explain in
>         a mail... but hopefully you'll understand what I mean!
>         in short.... I completely agree with you... but I'm not sure
>         about the word
>         "alphabetic".... maybe it's not the way to call this writing
>         system...
>         Anny
>             De : "Tomás Klapka" <Tomas.Klapka at ruce.cz>
>             Répondre à : sw-l at majordomo.valenciacc.edu
>             Date : Tue, 21 Jun 2005 13:30:47 +0200
>             À : sw-l at majordomo.valenciacc.edu
>             Objet : [sw-l] SW system type... alphabetic vs. others
>             (pictographic,
>             ideographic, logographic)
>             Hi, I have a question about type of SW writing system.
>             People always tell me that it is pictographic, ideographic
>             or ...
>             I think it is alphabetic, because there is no pictogram,
>             logogram,
>             ideogram for a morpheme.
>             Each morpheme (I mean sign in SW) is compounded of
>             phonetic (cheretic)
>             symbols standardized in IMWA (and IMWA is just the
>             alphabet). Those
>             symbols don't have meanings. So do phonems.
>             /
>             Sometimes there is more phonems in a symbol, but it still
>             has no meaning.
>             It is simillar as for example in czech letter 'á' (latin
>             letter a with
>             Acute) which represents long vowel 'a'.
>             So there is the sound quality (written as latin letter A)
>             and sound
>             duration (writen by Acute) - two phonems in a letter.
>             But the letter has no meaning itself. It makes the meaning
>             if it is
>             component of a morpheme:
>             czech word "ráda" - is glad, (feminine, verb)
>             czech word "rada" - advice, convocation, council,
>             counsellor, tip (noun)
>             /
>             So it must be alphabetic.
>             Is it right?
>             Tomas
>     <moz-screenshot-3.jpg><moz-screenshot-4.jpg>

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