writing multi-party conversation

Steve Slevinski slevin at SIGNPUDDLE.NET
Wed Aug 2 19:56:44 UTC 2006

Hi Erika,

Here's my understanding...  Others may write different, but I think this 
is what some of the best deaf writers and Val together have learned 
through years and years of daily use.

Ask follow up questions about any section, or ask for another 
perspective from the list.

Modern SignWriting has three conventions that will help. 

1) Expressive vs Receptive
We write in the expressive view.  You should be able to read SignWriting 
as if you can see through the page and see yourself signing.  The 
receptive view would be a transcript, what an observer sees. 

For reading and writing, the expressive view works best.

2) Vertical Vs Horizontal
SignWriting started as a horizontal writing system.  All versions of the 
SignWriter program use horizontal writing.  We have learned that 
vertical writing allows for better use of spatial information.  Since 
the head is always centered, you gain quick spatial information by 
glancing your eyes down the page.

With horizontal writing, the left and right sides become more difficult 
to interpret.  Instead of being able to glance down the page, the eye is 
interrupted for each sign.  This decreases reading speed and the 
reader's enjoyment..

3) Vertical in Lanes
Another advancement was discovered by watching really good story tellers 
recite a monologue.  Sometimes they use a very distinct body weight 
shift.  The signer's entire torso will shift from center while their 
feet stay in the same position.  This creates a very distinct feeling of 
3 lanes: center, left and right.  Some can argue for more, but 3 really 
is the magic number and should be the most commonly used form.  Using 
lanes in vertical writing expands and clarifies visual spatial 

Fully Body SignWriting versus MovementWriting
SignWriting is only a part of the MovementWriting system that Val has 
developed.  If you want to describe advanced body interactions and 
involvement with the environment, you will need special symbol sets 
created in the IMWA.  Anything is possible, but realize where 
SignWriting ends and MovementWriting starts.  SignWriting is a complete 
subset of the MovementWriting system with special rules and best 
practices all its own.  MovementWriting has recently been used to 
describe skateboard tricks.

Novel, Screenplay or Textbook
Either way, use the expressive view, write vertically and consider lanes.

A novel would have a narrator.  It's possible that the center lane can 
be the narrator of the story.  He can set characters or environments 
into the alternate lanes.  If there is a main character, perhaps he will 
set the main character to the left lane and use the right for other 
characters.  If he is describing 2 ideas, he may put one idea in one 
lane using a body weight shift and one idea on the other.  It is very 
easy to switch from lane to lane having an in depth compare and 
contrast.  It is possible to relating a lot of information easily and 

If there is advanced character interaction with the environment, I'd 
stay away from MovementWriting, and allow the narrator to describe the 
action in the middle lane.  Think of an author telling the story, rather 
than describing a video.  This is writing for the reader, rather than 
writing a screenplay. 

A screenplay would have sections of MovementWriting describing the 
interaction of people and objects.  It would also have sections of 
SignWriting where individual characters are signing.  If they are 
signing at the same time, you may want to consider using lanes, where 
each character has their own.  They way they could sign over each other.

A textbook would have sign text interspersed with graphics, spoken 
language, and possibly MovementWriting illustrations. 

Whichever format, SignWriting should be written expressive and vertically.

Computer or by Hand
When writing individual signs and texts on computer, consider using 
SignPuddle and SignText.  For fancy presentation, you can use either 
SignBank, MS Word or something else.

When writing by hand, you may want to use a vertically lined piece of 
paper for easier head aligning.

That's what I'd consider.


eghoffma at UMICH.EDU wrote:
> Hi - I'm just wondering if anyone has any experience writing 
> multi-party conversations with SSW. I'm working on linguistic 
> transcripts of naturally occuring conversation/interviews/etc in 
> Nepali Sign Language. I've only done transcripts of single signers so 
> far, to get used to Signwriting. Now I want to start doing these 
> multiparty interactions. Does anyone have any tips about this? I 
> figure that I will have each party's signing going down side-by-side 
> vertical strips (which is nice because I can visually represent 
> overlap and all that). I am writing from the receptive point of view 
> for these transcripts as that seems more suited to what I am working 
> on here (though I agree that expressive makes more sense for personal 
> writing). In most of these conversations the signers are facing one 
> another (and are therefore at 3/4 to the camera). Does it make any 
> sense to represent the way that looks in the sign writing or does it 
> make more sense to write the signs as if the signers were directly 
> facing the camera? Also, I have a lot of home signers in my data, who 
> often incorporate the physical environment in their communication 
> (reaching out to physically manipulate objects, trace on table tops, 
> etc). I don't suppose sign writing has any means of representing 
> contact with external physical objects? If not I can always describe 
> these actions along with the glosses. I think most of these questions 
> will work themselves out as I keep working, but I thought I'd throw 
> some of these questions out there so I won't reinvent the wheel if 
> someone has already worked through all this.
> Best,
> Erika
> Quoting Valerie Sutton <sutton at signwriting.org>:
>> SignWriting List
>> August 1, 2006
>> On Jul 20, 2006, Kimberley Shaw wrote:
>>> I've attached a picture of the first run of "ASL Story Book" as it  
>>> was being assembled! The first 20 copies are spoken for already,  
>>> leaving 30 up for sale to whomever ...Best, Kim
>> --------------
>> Hello Kim!
>> This is very exciting. The ASL Anthology looks great. I can see  
>> several stories I know. Congrats!
>> Look forward to hearing about your time at Gallaudet this summer -
>> And thanks for this photo of the ASL Anthology while it was being put 
>>  together...what fun ;-)
>> ?

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