SignText - Creating sentences directly in signed languages

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Tue Feb 7 01:51:40 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
February 6, 2006

Cherie Wren from Georgia School for the Deaf wrote:

> Once you institute standardized spellings, you lose a
> lot of the variability that is inherent in sign
> language:  unless you come up with a way to include
> all the 'inflections' possible for each sign...

Not everyone will know ASL well enough to be able to write the  
sentences directly in SignText, so different programs will be useful  
for different people...


Years ago, SignWriting was written by hand. There was no software and  
that was that...The flexibility of the writing system is enormous,  
when it is not restricted by software...

Then, when we first developed the SignWriter Computer Program, it was  
for the Apple 2 e and 2 c, before it became SignWriter DOS later. The  
first SignWriter program was just a typing program...there was NO  
dictionary to access, and no signs already written for you...that was  
back in 1985...

Then as time went by, SignWriter was transferred to MS DOS, and we  
added the dictionary features. When the programmer/designer, Rich  
Gleaves, created the feature where people could paste signs already  
written in the dictionary, into a document, I expressed concern  
because I was afraid that people would start depending on the  
dictionary and would never learn how to type...And that is exactly  
what happened...But there was also a positive side to  
this...SignWriter DOS with its 3000 ASL signs in a dictionary gave  
people a way to start...It was hard for them to learn to type in  
symbols that were so new to them, and so pasting signs from the  
dictionary into a document helped spread the writing system and  
taught people how to read the symbols as they searched the dictionary...

They would add the signs to the document and then change them in the  
document to make it flexible...

But then rightly so, others complained that people were depending on  
the dictionary too I would explain that they could type  
directly in symbols, without searching the one was  
forcing them to use the dictionary..but it was so much easier for  
everyone that it became the norm in creating SignWriting documents  
anyway, even though the direct typing method was there for them all  

So when Steve Slevinski started SignMaker and SignText, where we drag  
and drop symbols on the web, it is clear that it is pretty easy for  
people to create new signs...a little easier than typing in  
SignWriter it opened up the potential to create documents  
directly again, with no spoken language involved...

Of course we could have a lot of inflections in a dictionary someday,  
but I agree that creating sentences directly, without accessing a  
dictionary, is absolutely wonderful and requires that a person is  
really fluent in the is a great tool for teaching ASL!

I am impressed with how fast you have taken to it - Thank you!!

After I get Todd working on our SignBank program tomorrow, I will try  
once again to focus on creating the manual for the new SignText!

> Because so much information is carried in the head and
> body movements... but then again, written English
> can't convey the 'tone of voice' and lots of the
> emotional meaning.  I am thinking of all the TeachASL
> folks who want to challenge everything--- "well, can
> you write THIS?"  As of right now, we can, but if we
> go to standardized spellings, some of that would go
> away, except in the research version...

Ha! Don't worry...we will always be able to write THIS or anything  
else they throw at us! But of course you are right that  
standardizations will have to be coupled with the flexibility of  
changing a sign when you have to...and we can do that with  
SignText...did you know that? The little Sentence Adjustment symbols  
on the left of each sign make it possible to move signs into  
different positions in a sentence, and to even replace one sign with  
another...See attached diagram...

> English has relatively standard spellings, because
> there are relatively standard pronounciations...  You
> say the word 'fly' the same, whether you mean an icky
> bug; getting on a plane, terrified; getting on a
> plane, eagerly; or RUN AWAY!

Actually English did not have standardized spellings for  
centuries...Writing English was very flexible in spellings in the  
beginning and varied widely, until dictionaries were published and  
over centuries, standardizations crept in...but to this day spellings  
are changing all the time....

light is becoming lite
through is becoming thru
you is becoming u

there are changes a foot!

> In Sign, If I use a
> different facial expression, I change the meaning of
> what I sign.  Facial Adverbs for example...  If I sign
> 'drive' with my tongue sticking out and my head cocked
> to the side a little bit, that changes the meaning to
> 'drive carelessly.'  How would standardized spellings
> incorporate things like that?
> Does that make sense?

Yes! This makes sense! The only way a standardization for that could  
happen, is if over time, people pin down how many possible facial  
expressions could occur with that sign depending on the position in a  
sentence, and then you would have to give a person a choice of which  
one they want at this specific instance...That would lose the speed  
in creating sentences that we have right now with SignText...

Right now I am thrilled at how easy it is to create sentences  
directly in SignText..- I love your sentences, Cherie - Congrats on  
your accomplishments!!...

See attached...the Sentence adjustment symbols are the colorful  
little things to the left of each sign

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