Summary of writing steps for SignWriting

Charles Butler chazzer3332000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Oct 7 19:00:56 UTC 2005

Logic of the Order

The author, using the teaching sequence in Valerie Sutton’s Lessons in SignWriting [1] (see

also, translated into

Portuguese and Libras by Marianne Rossi Stumpf with input from Valerie Sutton and Charles

Butler, needed a way to sequence the signs of a Libras-Portuguese/Portuguese-Libras dictionary

so that an index of signs could be prepared by handshape and other markers for later

database and encylopedic development.

The order of the system (reduced to two pages in the attachment, is as follows).

1. The writing is 1st-person, from the signer’s point of view. The complete SignWriting

system allows for both 1st-person and 3rd-person writing, the dictionary is based on the

signer’s point of view.

2 Butler, C. An Ordering System for SignWriting

2. The writing is right-hand primary. Examples are currently taken from the right hand primary

viewpoint. Left hand primary signs are not currently included in the corpus under

discussion. A separate later article will discuss left-hand primary signing and the overall

order of the system.

3. As the system, as a writing system, often assumes “signer space”, the body of the signer

is not shown as a relative position marker unless it is necessary for understanding, such

as face or body contact or spacial location. Signs that occur in ”neutral” space come first

in the system, followed by signs which include the head or body as spatial locations.

4. A sign which uses the hands only comes first, followed later in the system by signs which

only use the face, the head, or the body posture and not the hands.

5. With signs which use the hands, the first marker that is addressed is the primary hand, in

this case, the right hand.

6. From what Group does the primary hand shape come from? (from the 10 groups of hands

used by the SignWriting system, articulated by which fingers are being used)

7. Which particular handshape within those groups is being used on the primary hand? The

handshapes are ordered by the way in which they are taught in the Manual, plus the way

they appear in the SignWriter software. The system in the graphic file below includes all

handshapes appearing in the corpus of the dictionary in the order in which they appear.

8. Which orientation (of the six available, palm-toward-reader, palm-facing-left, palm-awayfrom-

reader, palm-up-hand-pointing-out-from reader, palm facing left-hand-pointing-outfrom-

reader, palm-down-pointint out from reader).

9. Which rotation (counter-clockwise) of the right hand (starting with the up position and

rotation by 45 degrees).

10. Are the fingers being articulated? Joint movements are ordered here (first knuckle open,

first knuckle close, second knuckle open, second knuckle closed)

11. Does the hand touch or move close to a portion of the body which is included in the

writing sample? (A body touch, for example, even if the body is not shown, such as the

sign for ”meu,”, ”minha”, or ”mine” all touch the center of the body with the open flat

hand..) If so, the order is top of head to bottom of feet, top to bottom, left to right. The

graphic shows most of the positions appearing in the corpus.

12. What kind of touch is being articulated. The order is touch, hold, strike, in-between, brush,


13. What speed is the articulation, fast or slow?

14. Is there a facial expression? Facial expressions are top to bottom, left to right, depending

on which parts of the face are being articulated. The blank face comes first (used when

you simply want to show that the hand moves across the face) followed by particular


Stuart Thiessen <sw at PASSITONSERVICES.ORG> wrote:See comments below ...



On Oct 7, 2005, at 11:06, Bill Reese wrote:

> Stuart,
> I don't see mention of facial symbols.

I tend to group facial expressions, body shifts, etc. into a category 
that I call "non-manual markers." When we get into phrases, sentences, 
etc., there are more influences from the non-manuals that need to be 
considered. This is especially true for situations where a facial 
expression or body shift or head shift will continue over a phrase or 
sentence. I guess my approach is to start with the lexical item and 
then consider its context and apply the necessary non-manuals. In some 
cases, I might apply the non-manuals earlier if they are a part of the 
anchor (like facial expressions to the head symbol, etc.). I assume 
that with fluency and habit, this process may not be rigorously 
followed, but I think some process is needed for instructional 

> Also, locations left and right of an "anchor" seems to imply an anchor 
> that is centrally placed. Since most signs are done at chest level, 
> perhaps, for purposes of writing a sign, the spatial anchor would be 
> the center of the chest, corresponding to the center of the sign frame 
> space. Even if the sign has an anchor on a location of the body, that 
> location, in turn, needs to be anchored, thus making the center of the 
> chest a convenient reference point. Maybe this is too simplistic, 
> but it would give a standard reference point that would be readily 
> understood.

This is true. However, if I was signing my name, my anchor is actually 
the dominant side of my head. If I were signing the old ASL sign for 
Russia, my anchor is actually my hips. So that was why I mentioned both 
neutral space (near the central region of the chest) and/or a specific 
location on the body for the anchor.

> My first reaction, though, was that after a period of time, we 
> progress beyond the construction of the sign by it's individual 
> symbols to just the sign itself and, further, to phrases and 
> sentences. At that point, we may not be constructing a written sign 
> based on the recording of an observed sign but more on rote 
> memorization of written signs accepted as standard. In which case, 
> the writing of the sign may very well take on a type of construction 
> that's very close to what you have listed but in a standardized 
> manner. Perhaps Valerie's pronunciation rules could be used here.

Agreed. The purpose of my description is to help people who believe it 
is impossible to write a sign or who want to learn how to write a sign 
to see how to break down the steps. Once they see how a sign can be 
broken down and written, then they may be more willing to go the next 
step to learn how to write it. I just want to be sure that I am 
following a good process for writing it down. If you all have a 
different process, I am interested to learn it because maybe my process 
needs refining or maybe like Perl programmers say, "TMTOWTDI" (There's 
More Than One Way To Do It). If I teach my process and a student 
doesn't get it, maybe another process will help them.

> Bill
> Stuart Thiessen wrote:
>> I was just looking for a way to describe in basic, simple terms how 
>> we move from a sign we see to a sign we write. Any feedback on these 
>> steps as a way to describe this process? It would be much 
>> appreciated. I came up with these steps. I am not sure about the 
>> timing of #6, but I just put it there for now. I wanted to think of a 
>> way to help people visualize the process. This is what I catch myself 
>> doing. What about you all?
>> 1. Identify the sign’s “anchor.” This could be neutral space in front 
>> of the body or it could be some location on the body.
>> 2. If hands are involved (we should never assume always), we need to 
>> identify the handshape(s) and orientation(s) and select the 
>> corresponding symbol(s), placing the symbol(s) in 2D relationship to 
>> the anchor.
>> 3. If the hand(s) contact the body or each other, we need to select 
>> the appropriate contact symbol to represent the contact.
>> 4. Unless the sign is stationary or only consisting of simple 
>> contact, we now look to identify the movement of the hand(s) and 
>> select the appropriate movement symbol(s).
>> 5. If the hand(s) change to another handshape(s) during the movement, 
>> we select those handshape(s) and note their location(s).
>> 6. Finally, we note any particular dynamics (fast, slow, tense, etc.) 
>> and any non-manual markers that are essential to the sign.
>> Thanks,
>> Stuart

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Sw-l mailing list