Writing mouthing of words with SSW

Valerie Sutton sutton at SIGNWRITING.ORG
Sun Feb 26 15:57:42 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
February 26, 2006

Stefan Wöhrmann wrote:
> With my pre-knowledge of German Language and German Sign Language I  
> can make
> different observations /interpretations of what is being performed.
> Since this voiceless mouthing is a part of some  SL performances  
> (smile)
> in some SL of the world it should be important to find a way to  
> document
> these information.

Absolutely - you are right! Especially in Europe, where mouthing is  
used a lot...The key here is SOME sign languages...not all of them...

> Without knowing the spoken language of that given country it might be
> difficult or even impossible to capture the important aspects of this
> performance.

Yes. it relates to a signer who is using, or at least thinking of,  
some words from a spoken language...

It would be interesting to see a video of native DGS signers signing  
to each other without any hearing person in the room, to see if the  
same mouthing occurs...they might use classifiers too...that would be  
an interesting study...

> But as an informed observer there is now a possibility to provide  
> at least
> that bit of information that allows the reader to understand the  
> written
> document without any doubts.

Sure...for those who are writing a language that uses mouthing for  

> If you compare the SW spelling for ship and boat in the US - puddle  
> - you
> find no difference.
> If a teacher with ASL background wants his/her students to
> translate/understand the two sentences  -
> The ship is blue. The boat is white.
> What would they write? How do they know that the nouns are different?

They would write classifiers to describe the boat and the ship, not  
related to any English word...The actual English word has nothing to  
do with the concept...the concept is a large boat and smaller boat  
and those are described with classifiers...read below...

Val's comments below....

Hello Stefan and Everyone!
I think your work with writing the facial expressions of German Sign  
Language is wonderful, and if in German Sign Language, people mouth  
to differentiate between two words, such as BOAT and SHIP that is  
excellent to write that mouth movement, since that is a part of your  
languages...And Ingvild tells me that Norwegian Sign Language is  
similar so that is great...I am happy to know that the symbols can be  
applied in this way and thank you for developing this!

But when it comes to American Sign Language, our world is different.  
You know I am no expert on ASL, but I have at least lived and worked  
with Deaf people here, and I have had different experiences than what  
you describe in Germany. I believe that American Sign Language is not  
the same as DGS (German Sign Language) when it comes to the  
importance of writing mouthing English words...

You mention the difference of signing SHIP and BOAT in ASL. As you  
know, the sign itself is the same, if you look the two words up in  
some of the older dictionaries for ASL that use life-like  
illustrations to show the sign...I just looked the two words up in  
two dictionaries for ASL on my bookshelf, and both said it was the  
same sign...

But it is NOT the same sign when people really sign ASL between  
skilled ASL signers...but mouthing the word is NOT the way it is  

In my experience, there are two ways ASL Deaf people differentiate  
between two English words (English is a foreign language)

instead of MOUTHING)
They sign the sign WITHOUT mouthing, pause a tiny bit, fingerspell  
the word BOAT or SHIP, pause a tiny bit, and go on signing ASL....

If they happen to mouth the word in this case, it does not give it  
meaning like it does in DGS, because someone like Kevin Clark would  
NEVER mouth a foreign word...he always fingerspells it, and then goes  
on with real ASL (that doesn't care about the two English  
words)...and everyone understands Kevin just fine!...

In ASL, if you want to describe the difference between a BIG boat and  
a smaller one, you sign the sign, but then you add classifiers to say  
it is BOAT SMALL, or BOAT BIG. Facial expressions come in, like  
puffed cheeks to show big, or sucked in cheeks to show smaller, and  
eyegaze and all that...but the concepts are easily conveyed without  
mouthing an English word, which has nothing to do with ASL...

The way I look at it is this:

Kevin is 100 percent understood by all his ASL family, friends and co- 
workers...and he even teaches hearing people how to sign, but he  
almost never mouthes...Remember when we wrote the poem One Harbor? I  
do not remember Kevin mouthing words in that poem...so I feel that  
writing the mouthing of words for that poem would not have been  

Well, that SAME poem, signed by another ASL signer, might have some  
mouthing of words, but since Kevin can be understood without the  
mouthing, I see no reason to write the mouthing of one individual  
signers style of signing...that would be a style difference...not a  
meaning difference...

So writing classifiers is VERY important when we write ASL...and that  
is why the new SignText program is so important...It requires no  
spoken language to create documents with classifiers...

Writing the mouthing in German Sign Language sounds like it is  
absolutely necessary, since you do not use Fingerspelling as much as  
we do here in the US...

Thank you, Stefan, for giving us a tool to write mouthing if we need  

So all is good!

Cherie gave me a wonderful video with classifiers in ASL and I look  
forward to showing it to you...

And Cherie and Adam or Stuart or Philippe...how would you sign the  
difference between a BOAT and a SHIP in ASL?

Val ;-)

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